Alzheimer’s caregivers need to guard against wandering

DAYTON — Wandering is one of the most unsettling behavioral changes common for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, yet it surprises far too many family caregivers and can end with tragic results.

Six in 10 people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease will wander. A person with Alzheimer’s may not remember his or her name or address, and can become disoriented, even in familiar places.

As freezing temperatures and increased darkness settles in, those winter weather conditions add additional stress for more than 16 million people caring for a loved one living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Because people in the middle to later stages of Alzheimer’s experience losses in judgment, orientation, and the ability to understand and communicate effectively, they might think night is day, the past is the present and the immediate need to go somewhere can push them to leave the safety of their home.

“If a family talks to me about their loved one wandering off, I suggest immediate remedies that need to happen because it signals a change in behavior and thinking,” said Rebecca Hall, program director for the Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter. “Individuals with Alzheimer’s require increasing levels of supervision and personal care as the disease progresses. It’s important for families to understand the stages of the disease and that is where the Alzheimer’s Association can help.”

Most individuals with Alzheimer’s are cared for by family members. According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2020 Facts and Figures Report, 83% of the help provided to older adults in the United States comes from family members, friends or other unpaid caregivers and nearly half of all caregivers (48%) who provide help to older adults do so for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

In addition to this, family caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias are more likely than other family caregivers to help with emotional or mental health problems and behavioral changes like wandering.

The Alzheimer’s Association suggests the following tips for preventing wandering:

• Have a routine for daily activities;

• Identify the most likely times of day that wandering may occur and plan activities at that time because activities can reduce restlessness;

• Reassure the person if he or she feels lost, abandoned or disoriented;

• Place locks out of line of sight;

• Use devices that signal when a door or window are open.

The most important thing, according to Hall, is to have a plan in place in case of emergency.

“Even though it is common for persons living with dementia to wander from home, it often takes caregivers by surprise because it can happen suddenly, and this can be a source of anxiety for families. My advice is to put safeguards in place before you think they are needed, such as door alarms and additional lighting, and to reach out to us and create a plan, hopefully you’ll never need it, but if you do, it can alleviate a lot of stress to know you are prepared,” she said.

Individuals needing immediate advice should call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.