Alzheimer’s Dementia Wander
Wandering is a serious issue. Not only is it difficult to care for a loved one who wanders but it may be dangerous to their health. The risk is so great that many day-care centers and nursing homes refuse to take patients who wander.
That alone, shows the serious nature of wandering. Many perils are lurking for someone who wanders; they can wander into a busy street, accept a ride from a dangerous stranger, enter dangerous neighborhoods or walk into a swimming pool. There are innumerable perils for a patient with impaired thinking who may be disoriented or frightened or angry enough to wander away.
Besides the physical dangers, there are people who don’t understand dementia and may believe that someone impaired is acting crazy or drunk. Sometimes teenagers will harass or tease an impaired person if they are walking alone. It is up to us to protect our loved one with Alzheimer’s or Dementia. Knowing some of the reasons for wandering, helps us learn ways to prevent dangerous situations.
- Many patients wander because of a recent move which leaves them feeling lost, or an attempt to escape current surroundings and go “home” —
If an impaired person has begun wandering after experiencing new surroundings due to a current move, he is most likely searching for a place that is familiar to him. He may not be able to remember that he has moved, or that he is stressed from a new environment.
He only feels panic without knowing why. Whether they’ve made a recent move or simply forgotten their current residence, their feelings will leave them yearning to “go home again.” They begin to search for their childhood home (which no longer exists.) While wandering and searching they may become lost and confused and walk away rather than talk to someone or ask for help or directions to return home.
The best way to handle this situation is to create as much familiarity as possible for the person. Keep lots of photos from their youth, add touches of things that are associated with their youth; childhood toys, memorabilia or other personal items. Always speak to them calmly, in a comforting tone. Yelling or scolding only serves to anger the patient and make them feel more distant and detached from their current surroundings and encourages their desire to run away. Any hostility toward an Alzheimer’s or dementia sufferer brings them a sense of panic and can lead to catastrophic behavior on their part.
When reassuring an Alzheimer’s or Dementia patient, we can’t always expect them to be soothed on the first attempt. This rarely occurs. It may take several weeks of reassurance and comforting before they begin to calm about a stressful event. Even though they don’t remember the event or why they are stressed, their feelings will still be close to the surface and they will be easily upset for quite some time.
- Many patients wander because they’re bored or restless
A person who is accustom to being active, does not take well to long bouts of inactivity. He may wander simply for something to do, a way to occupy time. Often this type of wondering will be seen as pacing, or circling in the same area. Sometimes this type of wandering is aimless and can last for hours. In this case, it often gets on the caregiver’s and other people’s nerves and can cause swelling of the feet for the patient.
A good antidote for this type of wandering is to offer more scheduled, meaningful activity. Try puzzle books, crayons, or string beads, and sorting or filing. Most patients enjoy household chores such as folding laundry, towels. My mom would spend hours sweeping our sidewalk and back porch. She loved being outside, so it was a pleasure she enjoyed.
If they need more physical activity, you might try a more vigorous and structured walk
accompanied by another adult.
- Some wander at night, without any reason at all
My mom was a night wanderer. She was easily occupied during the day, but at night she would roam while everyone else in the house slept. We added extra bolts to our doors so that she could not get out of the house. (Thankfully, she could no longer maneuver a deadbolt)
Mom became totally disoriented about “time of day.” She never knew whether it was morning or night. A strict schedule during the day did help, busy activity and short walks with fewer and shorter naps caused her to sleep more soundly through the night.
Since we’ve discussed the dangers of wandering and a few things to do about it. We might also discuss the precautions that must be taken in case they are able to slip away despite your efforts.
If your loved one is in an early stage of forgetfulness, you might try putting an Identification card in their pocket, wallet or purse. Include Name, Address and phone number so that you can be contacted if they become lost or disoriented.
For those who have already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Dementia, or tend to wander away, it is essential that they have a bracelet with their name and your phone number engraved on it. You might also add the statement “Memory Impaired.”
A bracelet that is securely fastened and too small to be slipped over the hand is a little safer than a necklace, since they can be removed and left behind.
As stated earlier, when people see an impaired person they may assume the person is drunk or crazy and shy away from them. And, generally, the impaired person is not prone to reach-out to strangers when in a panic or lost. With a medical bracelet and the words “Memory Impaired,” someone who sees them would be more likely to offer assistance and/or call the phone number imprinted on the bracelet. Many nursing homes require these emergency bracelets.
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