According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 60 percent of people who suffer from dementia wander at some point. For caregivers, this can be frightening because many of those who wander off end up confused and lost, even in their own neighborhood, and are unable to communicate who they are or where they live. But there are things you can do to guard against this and protect your loved one.
For starters, to help reduce your mom’s tendency to wander, keep her occupied and involved in familiar daily activities such as preparing dinner or folding the laundry. It’s also important to encourage daily exercise and limit daytime napping to reduce nighttime restlessness.
There are also a number of simple home modifications you can make to keep her from wandering away. Some possible solutions include: adding an extra lock on the top or bottom of the exterior doors out of the line of sight; installing childproof door knobs or levers; placing a full-length mirror, or putting a “STOP” or “Do Not Enter” sign on the doors you don’t want her going through; or getting a signal device or motion sensor that lets you know when the door is opened. See alzstore.com for a variety of product solutions. And, be sure you hide the car keys to keep her from driving.
It’s also a good idea to alert your neighbors that your mom may wander so they can keep an eye out, and have on hand a recent picture to show around the neighborhood or to the police if she does get lost.
If you want some added protection in case she does wander off, there are a number of services you can turn to for help, like the MedicAlert + Safe Return program (medicalert.org/alz).
This service comes with a personalized ID bracelet that will have your mom’s medical information engraved on it, along with her membership number and the toll-free MedicAlert emergency phone number.
If she goes missing, you would call 911 and report it to the local police department who would begin a search, and then report it to MedicAlert. Or, a Good Samaritan or police officer may find her and call the MedicAlert number to get her back home safely.
There are also a number of GPS tracking devices that can help you keep tabs on your mom. With these products, she would carry or wear a small GPS tracker that would notify you or other caregivers via text message or email if she were to wander beyond a pre-established area, and would let you know exactly where to find her if she did.
To find GPS trackers, consider the PocketFinder or the Alzheimer’s Association Comfort Zone. Or, if you have concerns that your mother wouldn’t wear a GPS device or would take it off, there’s the GPS SmartSole (gpssmartsole.com), which is an insole with an embedded GPS device.
Jim Miller publishes the Savvy Senior, a nationally syndicated column that offers advice for Boomers and Seniors.