Know the signs, make a plan to prevent Alzheimer's wandering

Wandering among people with dementia is dangerous. But there are strategies and services to help keep them safe.


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

Wandering among people with dementia is dangerous, but there are strategies and services to help prevent it.

Anyone who has memory problems and is able to walk is at risk for wandering. Even in the early stages of dementia, a person can become disoriented or confused for a period of time.

Warning signs

It's important to plan ahead. Be on the lookout for the following warning signs:

Returns from a regular walk or drive later than usual.

Forgets how to get to familiar places.

Talks about fulfilling former obligations, such as going to work.

Tries or wants to "go home," even when at home.

Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements.

Has difficulty locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom, or dining room.

Asks the whereabouts of past friends and family.

Acts as if doing a hobby or chore, but nothing gets done.

Acts nervous or anxious in crowded areas, such as shopping malls or restaurants.

Tips to prevent wandering

Wandering can happen, even with the most diligent of caregivers. Use the following strategies to help lower the chances:

Carry out daily activities. Having a routine provides structure.

Identify the most likely times of day that wandering may occur, and plan activities for that time. Activities and exercise can reduce anxiety, agitation, and restlessness.

Reassure the person if he or she feels lost, abandoned or disoriented. If the person wants to "go home" or "go to work,"refrain from correcting the person. For example, say, "We are staying here tonight. We are safe, and I'll be with you. We can go home in the morning after a good night's rest."

Ensure all basic needs are met. Has the person gone to the bathroom? Is he or she thirsty or hungry?

Avoid busy places that are confusing, like shopping malls or grocery stores.

Place locks out of the line of sight. Install either high or low on exterior doors, and consider placing slide bolts at the top or bottom.

Use devices that signal when a door or window is opened, whether a simple bell placed above a door or an electronic home alarm.

Provide supervision. Do not leave someone with dementia unsupervised in new or changed surroundings. Never lock a person in a home or car alone.

Keep car keys out of sight. If the person is no longer driving, remove access to the keys — a person with dementia may forget that he or she can no longer drive. If the person is still able to drive, consider using a GPS to help if they get lost.

Make a plan

The stress experienced by families and caregivers when a person with dementia wanders and becomes lost is significant. Have a plan in place beforehand, so you know what to do in case of an emergency:

Begin search-and-rescue efforts immediately. Ninety-four percent of people who wander are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared.

Keep a list of people to call on for help. Have telephone numbers easily accessible.

Ask neighbors, friends, and family to call if they see the person alone.

Keep a recent, close-up photo and updated medical information on hand to give to police.

Know your neighborhood. Pinpoint dangerous areas near the home, such as bodies of water, open stairwells, dense foliage, tunnels, bus stops, and roads with heavy traffic.

Is the individual right or left-handed? Wandering generally follows the direction of the dominant hand.

Keep a list of places where the person may wander. This could include past jobs, former homes, places of worship ,or a restaurant.

Provide the person with ID jewelry. Enroll the person in MedicAlert+ Alzheimer's Association Safe Return, a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with dementia who wander. Call 800-625-3780 for more information.

If the person does wander, search the immediate area for no more than 15 minutes. Call 911 and report to the police that a person with Alzheimer's disease — a "vulnerable adult" — is missing. In addition, file a report with MedicAlert + Alzheimer's Association Safe Return. First responders are trained to check with the service when they locate a missing person with dementia. You do not need to be enrolled in MedicAlert+ Alzheimer's Association Safe Return to file a missing persons report.

Source: Alzheimer's Association: alz.org



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