How to Address One of Dementia’s Greatest Dangers

Among the biggest fears for people caring at home for those living with Alzheimer’s and related dementias is that their loved one will leave the house alone and get lost. This is a real concern; According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six of every ten people with the condition become disoriented and lose their way at some point. This phenomenon, known as wandering, results in serious injury or death for half of these people. This hazard can be reduced by recognizing what lies behind the desire to wander and taking steps to secure the home environment.

“If the wandering or wanting to leave the house, shows a pattern, try to determine what the underlying unmet need might be,” said Juliet Holt Klinger senior director of dementia care for Brookdale “Many times the cues are in what a person is saying or in a repeated pattern from their earlier lives and these routines should be continued. If someone always walked to the train to go to work every day at 7:30 in the morning, this may still need to be safely accommodated.”

Accompanying your loved one out the door, taking a short walk and then returning home could satisfy her impulse to leave the house. Once back inside, provide her with an activity that relates to her former career.

Providing meaningful activities to engage in throughout the day can also decrease the need for wandering. “Persons living with dementia have the same needs for successful experiences throughout their day that we do. It is just as important to plan stimulating, enriching, engagement for a person as it is to give their pills on time,” Holt Klinger said. “Especially in younger persons with the disease, we need to understand that the need to be active and engaged in a daily life outside the house has not demised."

Wandering can also signal an unmet physical or psychological need.

“When you are trying to determine the cause of the wandering behavior, it is always easiest to start with the unmet physical needs. Someone may just be hungry, or looking for the bathroom or may be too cold or too warm inside,” Holt Klinger explained.

Think about when she last ate or drank and if it’s been a while, offer her food and a beverage. Consider whether the environment is too noisy or the temperature is too high or low and make the necessary adjustments.

“Remember that boredom can be a big motivator to want to go somewhere else. Persons living with dementia have the same need for novelty in their lives as we do. We all get bored with the same activities day in and day out so be sure to change up the routine and provide for new, safe experiences out of the house,” Holt Klinger encourages.

A variety of security measures can also curb wandering.

Keep car keys hidden and consider taking steps to further secure your home’s doors. Installing interior locks that are low or high enough to be out of sight can help. Equipping doors to signal they are being opened can address the problem, as well. It can be as simple as placing a bell on them or you may consider using a more sophisticated system that includes motion sensors.

If, despite all of these measures, wandering and getting lost remain a concern, it may be time to consider a move to a senior living community that specializes in care for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

“Here at Brookdale, our Clare Bridge Alzheimer’s and dementia care communities allow for what we refer to as ‘sheltered freedom’; fully secured, but with many areas inside and out that can be explored safely and independently by our residents", Holt Klinger said. “It can be a life changing experience for someone living with dementia to go from a family home where they may have to be more confined to remain safe to our communities with gardens where they are free to go out but still remain safe.”