As every caregiver knows, each person with dementia has different needs and exhibits different behaviors. For this very reason, be prepared for your family member to wander. Just because someone has never wandered before is no reason to assume they won’t start. Wandering is one of the most dangerous behaviors exhibited in dementia, because the person can be lost or injured. Of course, if your loved one is a regular wanderer, you already know that you have to be vigilant in protecting their safety.
Please consider the following ideas to prevent dangerous wandering behavior:
- Encourage movement, exercise, and activity. Make the person’s walking behavior a shared activity, or allow the person to wander in a safe, controlled area. Any physical activity, like walking, is beneficial to the dementia patient, and indulging this behavior safely may prevent more dangerous episodes.
- Be aware of hazards. Take a look around your home and immediate surroundings for dangerous elements, such as fences, gates, swimming pools or other bodies of water, bus stops, heavy traffic areas, steep stairways, and high balconies. Make any necessary adjustments to your environment.
- Communicate with your loved one. Remind the impaired person of who they are, who you are, and that they are in a safe place. Constantly reassure the person, who may feel lost, homesick, and abandoned. Try to determine if any particular event triggers the wandering episodes; become a detective.
- Involve your neighbors. Inform your neighbors of your family member’s condition and keep a list of their names and phone numbers handy. Teach them how to approach your loved one in a non-threatening way, such as using their name, identifying themselves, approaching from the front, and using gentle touch to guide and orient them.
- Keep a current photo. Remember to keep a current, clear snapshot of your loved one, along with a written physical description. This will be useful for involving your neighbors, if they don’t already know your family member, and is absolutely essential for any police involvement.
Utilize available agencies. Call the Alzheimer’s Association at 1-800-660-1993 to inquire about their Safe Return program. Consider getting an identification bracelet engraved with the person’s diagnosis or “memory impaired” through Medic Alert at 1-800-432-5378.