As a dementia or Alzheimers caregiver, one of the scariest thing to consider is having your loved one wander off and get lost, hurt or worse. Here are some tips, ideas and products to help you stay on top of your loved one's dementia wandering.
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What Is “Wandering Off?”
When your loved one is a person with dementia, one of your main fears is that they get lost and then you can't find them. This could happen because…
- They leave your home and wander around the neighborhood
- They leave the facility they are in and wander around the neighborhood
- They are still driving and get lost going somewhere
- You are at the store and she wanders and becomes lost
Functionally, people with Alzheimers disease or dementia can get lost almost anywhere…. sigh. AND according to the Alzheimers Org, 6 in 10 Alzheimers patients will wander off….ack!
So what should you do to make sure you can get them back?
- What Is “Wandering Off?”
- Protecting Them From Leaving Your Home
- Finding Them After They Get Out
- Dementia Wandering Wrapup
Protecting Them From Leaving Your Home
Okay, when you first start this journey you might be thinking, “damn this sounds like I am keeping them hostage in my home.” But it is not like that… if people with dementia get out they could be harmed or worse, so your job is to prevent wandering and to keep them from being able to get out.
Having attended a conference about Alzhemiers where a police officer spoke, there are a few things you should do BEFOREHAND to help them and you get your loved one back.
Notify local police of the person living with you and their medical condition.
This can help them understand what is really happening if your loved one gets out.
For example, my Mother-In-Law called us from the rehab facility one day and said she had been kidnapped and was locked in. She even convinced a nurse to let Mom use her personal cell phone to make a call.
Had law enforcement heard that, there could be some confusion about what is actually going on and launch an emergency response!
Make sure they have a recent picture of your loved one on file and their height and weight in case the police have to search for them.
Notify your neighbors, friends and family members.
Your family may not really understand yet how dire the situation is with your loved one. You should let them know if they get a weird call or drop by, that your person may be wandering.
If you live in a controlled area like a subdivision or an apartment building, you can notify your neighbors to let you know if they see your loved one out alone. Give them a phone number where they can reach you and a backup number if possible in case you are out of touch.
Most people are super compassionate and willing to help if you ask!
Get door locks and alarms if your loved one is trying to get out.
There is no way to watch someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so make sure you have alarms and locks on your doors!
The first kind of lock that can work is super low tech. You can have a slider bolt at the top or the bottom of the door. They cost about $10 and work because the field of vision that Alzheimers and dementia notices is straight ahead.
If those don't work, you can get alarms for your doors like parents use for toddlers and pools. They cost about $20 but you have to be in range to hear them which might not work great if you have “pool doors” like we have in Grandma Linda's suite.
For super high tech, you could get a Ring doorbell for each door that includes motion detection that you can see on your phone, tablet or computer. This could be good for if your loved one lives in their own home and you want to know if they are coming and going.
Use baby monitors to keep track of them.
One of the reasons that dementia patients try to get out is that they are disoriented. Maybe they don't recognize where they are or even who you are. BUT, you can't be by their side day and night!
Our daughter is having a baby in a couple of days and I just found out about this new kind of baby monitor you can see with your phone! It is called an Owlet and gives you visual access of them, no matter where you are!
Finding Them After They Get Out
Okay, you can be a step ahead with these too!
If They Are Driving
One of the bartenders at my favorite watering hole is using this one with her dad who still drives! They have hidden a Tile Bluetooth Tracker in the back of the driver's seat pocket so they can monitor where he is going. This is super affordable, coming in at around $20.
You could also get a GPS tracking device that you could attach to the outside of the car (like a spy!) These are a little more expensive, but may not be found if your loved one cleans their car regularly.
That said, the policeman said that dementia peeps driving is not a great idea. There is a saying in the force, “they are good until they are not”. He has seen them drive several states away or hit or kill other people.
We have all seen those “Silver Alerts” where they are trying to track down someone elderly who has wandered off… what a nightmare not knowing where your loved one was.
Additional Resource: How To Get Dementia or Alzheimers To Stop Driving
Identification Attached To Them
If you are like me, you never leave your house without a pocketbook, so someone could know who you are by just checking your drivers license or ID card. But most dementia peeps don't drive anymore and if they are wandering, they probably don't have any money or identification on them.
One of my favorite things I have seen is a pretty dementia necklace that has the daughters name, phone and address on it… there are dog tag versions of this too for men!
If your loved one wears a watch, you can get them an Emergency Alert 4G Smart Watch. This is super fancy and has the added benefit of being able to allow two way communication.
That said, if they take it off, then you are right back to square one!
Apple Watch warning! The Apple watch relies on being close to your phone, so if your loved one doesn't have a watch AND a phone together, you can't track them!
Dementia Wandering Wrapup
Okay, that was a lot of info! BUT, I just want to talk for a wee minute about what it is like day to day, living with dementia and worrying about wandering.
The “real” info says to keep them busy, but you can't keep them busy 24/7.
They also say to watch them, but anyone who has taken care of a toddler knows that it takes SECONDS to lose track of what they are doing. And if they experience sundowning, the whole thing will get worse at later times of day!
So, from one caregiver to another, do what you can! We have the push locks on the door and alarms so we know if she gets out (and my husband's work desk is right by the front door). Our back doors go into the pool area and then there is door and another gate to get out so I don't think she would “escape” that way.
We have hidden the car keys and sold the car she used to drive. I got her the cute necklace and encourage her to wear it as much as I can.
One of these days I will pop over to the police sub station by our house with a photo of Mom and let them know the situation.
And I take REALLY good care of her.
BUT… if she does get out, it is no one's fault. It is the damn disease. Please remember that and don't beat yourself up if you can't do everything!