Caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia requires many skills, including keeping your parent safe. Unfortunately, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, six out of ten people with Alzheimer’s will wander at some point during the disease.
Wandering can mean that your parent wanders away and becomes lost on foot; it can also refer to driving away or using some other mode of transportation to travel without supervision or the ability to find the way home.
Wandering is one of the most dangerous symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, especially when it occurs during extremely hot, cold, or otherwise treacherous weather. The Alzheimer’s Association offers some great ideas to reduce wandering. Based on their suggestions and my own experiences working with individuals with Alzheimer’s, try these tips and tricks:
1. Identify the most common times of day when your parent wanders and plan activities during those periods.
2. Try to incorporate regular exercise into your parent’s routine (even exercises performed sitting in a chair can be beneficial).
3. If your parent wanders at night, try to limit fluid intake two hours before bedtime and make sure he or she has gone to the bathroom right before bed. Also limit naps during the day.
4. If your parent starts to wander, try to redirect him or her to an enjoyable activity.
5. Use night lights throughout the home.
6. Locks should be installed out of the line of sight so your parent will be less likely to locate and unlock them. For instance, install slide bolts near the top or bottom of doors.
7. Try camouflaging doors and doorknobs so your parent does not take notice of a possible exit. Cover doorknobs with cloth the same color as the door (you can also try using childproof knobs). Try painting doors the same color as the walls, or cover them with removable curtains.
8. Use black paint or tape to create a black square or circle in front of doors. People with Alzheimer’s will often perceive this to be a hole in the ground and will not cross it.
9. The Alzheimer’s Store sells monitoring devices that signal you when a door has been opened.
10. Surround the yard, patio, or other outdoor areas with hedges or a fence.
11. Label all doors in the house with signs or symbols that help your parent determine the purpose of each room. If you don’t want your parent to use a certain door, try placing a “Do Not Enter” sign on that door.
12. Identify any “trigger items,” or items that your parent will not leave the house without, such as a purse, keys, hat, etc. If you hide these items, your parent may be less likely to wander.
13. Enroll your parent in an identification service such as the Alzheimer’s Association’s MedicAlert + Safe Return Program.
14. Prepare for wandering incidents by alerting your parent’s neighbors to this possibility. Also, keep a current picture of your parent on hand and identify hazardous areas near the home, such as bodies of water or steep drop-offs.
15. Keep in mind that individuals who wander generally follow a path in the same direction as their dominant hand.
What tips and tricks have you found useful in preventing your parent from wandering? Post a comment to this blog and share your strategies with others who are caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease.
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--Carrie L. Hill, Ph.D