Wandering and dementia: Tips offered to keep your loved one safe

The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease or some sort of dementia continues to grow. About 5.3 million people aged 65 or older suffer from Alzheimer’s dementia nationwide, or roughly 1 in 10 seniors.

A person with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia can wander out of their home and may not remember his or her name or address and may become easily disoriented. The Alzheimer’s Association notes that anyone who has memory problems and is able to walk is at risk for wandering.

A person may show signs they are suffering from dementia. Some of the signs include:

  • Returning from walks or drives later than usual.
  • Forgetting how to get to familiar places.
  • Talking about former obligations such as going to work.
  • Asking the whereabouts of deceased family and friends.
  • Trying to go “home” when they are already there.

Caregivers should develop a routine for daily activities that provides structure to try and prevent wandering. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends keeping car keys out of sight, installing devices that signal when a door or window is opened and provide direct supervision as often as possible.

If a person begins to show signs they feel lost, abandoned or disoriented and asks to “go home” or “go to work,” don’t try to correct the person. Instead use communication focused on validation. For example: “We are staying here tonight. We are safe and I’ll be with you. We can go home in the morning after a good night’s rest.”

“Much like a child can disappear from your sight in a spit second, so can a person with dementia” says Kingston Residence of Marion’s Memory Care Director, Susan Coolbaugh. “We have known of situations where the person with dementia ended up in a field or another state even though family members thought they had a watchful eye on them.”

It’s also smart to have a plan in place if someone does wander off. Keep a recent close-up photo and updated medical information on hand to give to police. A list of past jobs, former homes and place of worship — or any other place that might be significant to an individual like a favorite restaurant or store — may also be helpful.

If a loved one does go missing, call 911 immediately to file a missing person report.

Kingston Residence of Marion offers adult day care through the Marion County Council on Aging and has a state-of-the-art memory care unit. To learn more, contact Kingston at 740 389-2311.

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