Wandering Seniors: A Common Challenge for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Many Alzheimer’s caregivers struggle with wandering seniors. While there is no known cure for the memory loss or other associated conditions of Alzheimer’s disease, there are a number of ways you can keep a wandering loved one safe. The following tips can mitigate your loved one’s need to wander, reducing her risk of injury.

Why Do They Wander?

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are a number of reasons why seniors with Alzheimer’s disease leave their homes. Discuss possible causes with your loved one’s doctor, and ask about ways you can reduce his need to wander. In some cases, it may be as simple as changing medications or sidetracking him with other activities during certain times of the day. Common reasons seniors wander include:

  • Restlessness or confusion, sometimes caused by medications
  • Searching for something familiar, such as a former home or a family member’s home
  • Getting lost on the way to find food, drink, or the bathroom
  • Avoiding overstimulation, anxiety, or a stressful situation
  • Living in another time of his life. For example, if your loved one wanders on a predictable schedule, he may be trying to leave home every morning for work.

Reducing the Risk of Wandering

The Mayo Clinic also offers several tips for caregivers to reduce the hazards associated with wandering. These include:

  • Make it difficult for your senior to find the door, open it, and get outside. Hide doors behind curtains and use childproof doorknob covers. Install childproof locks on storm doors and safety latches on gates.
  • Ensure you are alerted to wandering. Install alarms on each door, even if it’s just a bell that rings when the door is open. You might also want to use baby monitors while you sleep as well as pressure-sensitive mats that will alert you when your loved one gets out of her bed.
  • Talk to your neighbors, local police, and others in your area. Let them know you have a loved one with dementia who tends to wander. Offer a recent photograph of your senior so that they’ll be able to keep an eye out for her if she does wander outside.
  • Ask professionals for advice Home healthcare workers, physical therapists, and nurses have often seen what works for other families, and they may help you reduce some of the guesswork.
  • Invest in a GPS-equipped device. Many seniors with Alzheimer’s won’t press the buttons on their personal medical alert bracelets. In these cases, you might want to consider investing in a medical alert device with GPS and fall detection technology, which will automatically contact help for your loved one should an accident occur and it detects the fall. In addition, having your senior wear a GPS-enabled device allows you to look up her location if she is missing. Some devices will even send alerts if she goes beyond preset borders.

Many seniors with Alzheimer’s disease — or other conditions that affect memory and reasoning — feel driven to wander. By understanding the reasons why, and by taking steps to safeguard your home, you’ll help keep the wandering seniors in your life safe.

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