There are many difficult things that caregivers of Alzheimer's patients have to deal with, but one of the most difficult problems you may face is the issue of wandering. Patients with Alzheimer's wander for many reasons—they may not recognize their surroundings and may try to make their way to a familiar location, may believe they're headed home or to work, may be trying to find someone or something, or may just be bored or restless. Unfortunately, wandering can be very dangerous for an Alzheimer's patient. People could get lost or even hurt if they leave the property by themselves or wander away from you or another caregiver. Take a look at some tips that can help you prevent wandering and protect your loved ones if they do manage to wander.
Start with Home Security
The first thing that you need to do is make sure that your home is secure for your loved ones. If you have children, you probably remember childproofing the doors and windows so that the children couldn't open them by themselves. This is similar. You may want to install locks high on the doors, where the person who is wandering either can't reach them or isn't likely to notice them. Another idea is to put motion detectors on the doors and windows, or for a low-cost alternative, hang bells on the doors and windows. This way, you'll have an alert if someone is trying to leave.
However, you can't keep your loved one locked inside all the time. If you have a fence, or if you can afford to install one, you may want to consider securing the gate in a way that your loved one can't open. This allows them to roam the property, not just the inside of the house, while still preventing wandering. If during the day they get fresh air and outdoor exercise, like walking around the garden or yard, getting outside might actually help your loved one sleep better at night, preventing nighttime wandering.
Talk to the People Closest to You
It's important that friends and relatives that are going to be in contact with your loved one are aware that wandering is a problem. This is not the time to downplay the effects of an Alzheimer's diagnosis. Your loved one may be, or may appear to be, completely lucid at times and then very confused shortly after. You don't want a teenage cousin visiting for Thanksgiving to mistakenly think that they're helping by opening the door for their grandmother—they need to know that if grandma leaves unsupervised, she could end up lost.
If you use in-home caregivers for respite care or for when you're away at work, they also need to be fully aware of your loved one's wandering habits. Not all patients with Alzheimer's wander, and no two patients are the same, so don't assume that even an experienced caregiver knows what to expect from your loved one. If your loved one is particularly fast or good at bypassing locks, for example, that's something that a paid caregiver needs to be aware of.
This is also a good time to meet your neighbors, if you haven't already. Introduce your loved one to as many people on the street as you can. Let your neighbors know that wandering is an issue, and give them a way to contact you if they see your loved one outside by themselves.
Be Prepared Just in Case
Despite your best efforts, sometimes Alzheimer's patients do manage to get far enough away to get lost. You must be prepared for that eventuality as well. Your loved one should have ID on them at all times that identifies them and provides basic contact information. An ID card in their wallet or purse is not sufficient; you can't expect them to remember it when they decide to wander. Medical-alert jewelry is a good choice, and there are many options to choose from. There are pendants, if your loved one won't wear a bracelet, and there are soft bracelets if the hard metal jewelry bothers them. There are even temporary tattoos designed for identifying patients with medical needs, like Alzheimer's, and providing a contact number.
While you're considering wearable ID, you might also want to consider a tracking device. Wearable radio-wave beacons or GPS devices can help you find a missing loved one more quickly. It can take nine hours on average to find a missing person who has wandered away, but a tracking device can narrow that time frame to a matter of minutes.
Wandering can be a frustrating part of Alzheimer's disease, but it's usually manageable if you take precautions. Securing your home, making sure everyone is informed, and preparing just in case wandering happens anyway are the best ways to keep your loved one safe.
Go to this website for more information about in-home care.