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Steps to Guard Against Dementia-Related Wandering

Spring weather increases the risk of this behavior but you can help prevent it by taking safety measures.


Cathy Franz, LSW, is a Care Consultant for WeCare…Because You Do, a service of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging

For residents of colder climates, spring is a welcome change after months of being cooped up inside to ride out the frigid weather. As temperatures rise and the hours of light increase, it’s much easier to get outside to enjoy the fresh air.

But when you have a loved one with dementia, this time of year can pose a particular challenge. With this renewed access to the outdoors comes a greater risk of wandering. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 60 percent of people who live with dementia will wander at least once; many will wander repeatedly. Although the behavior poses serious concerns, there is much you can do as a caregiver to help protect your loved one.

Steps to guard against wandering

An important first step is to make your loved one’s environment more secure. You may want to put keys to the house and car in a place where your loved one can’t readily find them. Consider raising or lowering locks on doors so that they are out of his or her line of sight. It may also help to install low-cost alarms on doors that go off when they’re opened. You can select knobs that blend in with doors, making them less visible. Or you can place childproof covers over doorknobs. Hanging a photo of a stop sign on doors at eye level can be another good deterrent. Curtains can also be used to cover doors.

The next step is to examine your loved one’s behavioral patterns. Is there a particular time he or she likes to venture out? Maybe your loved one sometimes mentions having to get to work or pick up a child at certain hours. Is evening pacing an issue? Are there certain times he or she wants to be involved in an activity? Do you notice signs of pain or hunger? Any such patterns will allow you to come up with solutions to wandering.

After you’ve gotten a better handle on your loved one’s behavioral patterns, you can brainstorm ways to intervene, especially during the most risky times of day. Try to think up meaningful activities your loved one can do safely. It’s important to stick to a routine and to validate his or her feelings while you redirect to safer activities. If your loved one does still try to wander, you might offer a snack as a distraction.

When you pay attention to your loved one’s behavioral patterns, make the environment more secure and find ways to intervene at particularly risky times, you can do much to help prevent wandering. Remember that you don’t have to confront this challenge by yourself. Your neighbors can be one good source of support. You may want to convey the situation to them so that can keep an eye out and let you know if your loved one does venture outdoors alone. It can also be helpful to notify first responders in your community that your loved one is at risk for wandering. Getting your loved one a GPS device to track movements, along with an ID bracelet that includes your contact information can also give you greater peace of mind. WeCare…Because You Do, an email and phone-based program of care coordination and coaching, can also provide you with the tools and supports to educate yourself about the disease and services available and clarify next steps that help you take on each day.

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