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Preventing Wandering in Persons with Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Last Updated: September 18, 2018

Causes of Wandering

As dementia progresses, people with the disease may have difficulty remembering how to get to a certain place or forget from where they just came. Such forgetfulness and disorientation can become more serious later on, particularly if they begin to wander off or get lost. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 60% of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) will wander away and become lost at some point in time. Reasons for wandering include:

  • Boredom
  • Excess energy
  • Trying to walk off discomfort
  • Trying to find something
  • Confusion, thinking he or she must get somewhere

 Issues with memory due to dementia can lead to disorientation and an increased risk of wandering. Watch a short video that explains how and why dementia impacts memory (4 minutes 20 seconds).

 

Suggestions for Caregivers & Family Members

For caregivers, wandering can be an extremely frightening and overwhelming experience, as the safety and wellbeing of a loved one is uncertain. However, one can take steps to help prevent and / or decrease the chance of wandering. Make note of the following tips:

  • Try to understand why your loved one wanders in order to come up with appropriate solutions to prevent it from happening. For example, if your loved one wanders because he/she is restless, try going on more walks together.
  • Determine what time of day your loved one is most likely to wander and fill that time with something to do, such as watching a favorite television program or listening to music
  • Make sure your loved one carries or wears some sort of dementia identification with him/her at all times. Identification (ID) bracelets or necklaces can be worn easily or information cards can be placed in wallets, purses, or pockets. That said, medical ID jewelry is best, as your loved one can inadvertently remove or lose ID that is not worn. Dementia bracelets for identification purposes are available from MedicAlert and American Medical ID, for example. Be sure that any identifier includes your loved one’s name, address, your phone number, and information about his or her medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease or Lewy body dementia, and allergies. You might also consider sewing identification on to your loved one’s clothing.
  • Consider installing locks on the external doors that are flush to the doorframe or are near its top or bottom, out of the sight of your loved one. In addition, learning how to use a new lock can be difficult for someone with dementia and may prevent him/her from wandering outside of the house. However, this same lock may also prevent him/her from escaping in an emergency, so consider both the benefits and risks of locks.
  • Utilize night-lights, such as motion detector night-lights, in the home so your loved one can see if they do have a tendency to wander at night. Illumination from the night-lights helps to reduce disorientation and prevent falls and other accidents.
  • Consider providing a safe location for your loved to wander like a fenced-in yard.
  • Keep recent photos of your loved one available for the police or for friends and family who would help you search for your loved one in the event that she/he becomes lost.

 

Technology Solutions to Prevent Wandering

MedicAlert + Safe Return Program

The MedicAlert and Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program is an emergency response service that is available nationwide. In the event that a loved one with dementia wanders and is unable to be located, caregivers call an 800 emergency response number that is available 24 hours a day/7 days a week. A photo of the missing individual and any critical information pertaining to his/her dementia and condition will be given to emergency responders. If the person with dementia is found by someone other than the team from MedicAlert + Safe Return, the individual who found him/her simply calls the number on the individual’s medical ID jewelry, and MedicAlert + Safe Return will contact the caregiver.

GPS Tracking Device

GPS (global positioning system) tracking devices can be extremely useful for locating persons with dementia who have a tendency to wander. GPS monitors can go in jewelry, watches, shoe insoles (for instance, GPS SmartSole) or be attached to clothing. AngelSense is one GPS device that attaches to clothing or can be worn as a belt. With AngelSense, caregivers are able to monitor their loved one from an app. While originally designed for special needs children, it is also very beneficial for persons with dementia. Caregivers are able to set “safe locations”, and if a loved one is in an “unknown” location, an alert is sent to the caregiver. Other beneficial features include an alarm that allows caregivers to help locate a loved one, as well as the capability to call a loved one and speak with him/her though the device. In addition, there are GPS monitors for vehicles. (Please note the safety issues of those with dementia driving). Smartphones can also be tracked via GPS. For instance, a tracking app can be installed, such as Senior Safety App. However, if your loved one does not carry his/her smartphone when wandering, this app will be of no use.

Project Lifesaver

Via the Project Lifesaver program, which is available in all 50 states, “at risk” persons, such as those with dementia, wear a radio transmitter device that transmits a frequency signal. The transmitter is connected to a band, and the device, which is similar in size to a wristwatch, is worn on one’s wrist or ankle. When a loved one wanders off, Project Lifesaver is notified and he/she is found using their individualized frequency by a team of emergency personnel. The team is trained to approach and bring individuals with dementia home safely.

Alarm Devices

The Alzheimer’s Door Alarm allows caregivers to monitor doors and if a “monitored” door, such as the front door, is opened, an alarm sounds. This device can also be used on windows and cabinet doors. For purposes of simplicity, even a bell can be hung over a door to alert caregivers that the door has been opened. There is also an alarm called the Bed Alarm that beeps and alerts caregivers if a person with dementia is getting out of bed or a chair. In addition, there are floor mats with alarms that are triggered when a person walks on them.

Medical Alert Systems

Medical alert systems, often referred to as Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS), are commonly thought of as devices to be used in the event of a fall. While this is one of the major benefits of PERS, many devices also are able to track movements in the home and include GPS tracking to find persons who are prone to wandering. For more information about PERS, click here.

 

Memory Care Units

As dementia progresses and persons enter the late stages of the disease, it often is no longer feasible to provide care for a loved one at home. Memory care units, also called special care units (SCUs), Alzheimer’s care units, or dementia care facilities, provide a long-term care living environment specifically designed to meet the needs of persons with dementia. Supervision 24 hours per day, assistance with daily living activities, and activities geared towards those with dementia is generally provided. SCUs may be stand-alone residences or a wing of an assisted living facility or nursing home. Click here to learn more about choosing a dementia care facility.