What Can I Do When Someone With Alzheimer's Wanders?

4 answers | Last updated: Mar 28, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

What should I do if someone with Alzheimer's wanders?

Expert Answers

Paula Spencer Scott, contributing editor, is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's. A Met Life Foundation Journalists in Aging fellow, she writes extensively about health and caregiving; four of her family members have had dementia.

Your primary concern is keeping the person safe. More than 6 in 10 people with Alzheimer's wander (pace the floors or walk away from where they live), and every year tragedies result.

Try the following safety measures:

SEE ALSO: Find Memory Care Near You

  • Make the house safe for walking. Pick up clutter, throw rugs, wires, and plants that may be tripped over.
  • Make doors difficult to open. Try plastic pinch-grip doorknob covers or chain locks of a type that's unfamiliar to the person (such as a chain lock in place of an old button lock). Block sliding glass doors at the base.
  • Consider alarms that signal movement, such as chair pads, bed pads, and motion detectors. There are also bells that sound when a door is opened.
  • Enroll the person in a program that alerts authorities if they go missing, such as the Alzheimer's Association's MedicAlert + Safe Return. Many local police stations also run programs.
  • See also How to Handle a Parent With Alzheimer's Who Wanders.

Community Answers

Geri hall answered...

61% of people who live at home WILL wander away at least once. 23% of people in facilities wander away. Finding them is absolutely critical before they get lost, are mugged, or succumb to weather. In additin to Paula's expert advice I would offer this:

There are now GPS sensors for every stage od AD. In earlier dementia (the person can still carry a phone, prepare meals, do some yard work, cook, etc), you can take yours and their cell phone to your cell provider and have them program it for GPS. That way, as long as the person has the phone (phone belts are easy to find)on and with them you can track where they are. For more information go to www.alzstore.com.

For more advanced people there are other GPS locaters you can purchase. They are expensive but can really save a life. I live in an area that will be over 110 degrees this week. Our police know that if a wanderer is not found within 20 minutes they are likely to have expired. So a fast find is essential.

Make sure the person is wearing the same clothing every day. Buy multiple identical items from a catalogue that carries the same merchandise each year (for example polo-style shirts and khakis. Have a recent picutre of your loved one in that outfit that you can hand to rescue workers.

Have the Safe Return Medic-Alert bracelet on your loved one and you. That way if you get separated at the mall or airport, people will know to return a "found" loved one to you.

The minute you notice your loved one is missing, call 911. Do not call an out of state or county family member. Call the police first.

Do NOT think wandering will not happen to your loved one. It can. People with dementia who drive cars often wander in them getting lost and unfortunately too often die. You can't just warn a patient not to wander: "I talked to Ralph who says he will never go again." If they wander once, they will go again.

Try to find out why the person was wandering. Often it is to look for activity. Activities are the single most important part of good dementia care. A busy patient rarely wanders.

TV can also play a part in wandering as the damaged brain doesn't process the images correctly and takes in altered meanings. If you are watching a lot of news or violent shows, the patient may think what happens on the screen is happening at home and fear for their safety.

Hope this helps a bit

Geri Hall, PhD, ARNP, GCNS, FAAN Banner Alzheimer's Institute

Swish gps tracker answered...

The Swish GPS Tracker is perfect protection for persons with Alzheimer's, Autism, Dementia, ideal also for farmers, people living alone or even your favourite Pet!

You ring the Tracker and it will return the exact location of the person in distress or living alone!. There is also a panic SOS button when pressed will send a "Help Me" text message to three mobile phones with the Longitude, Latitude location.

Also you can change the Swish GPS Tracker from a Tracker to a Monitor too! (using your mobile phone) and listen in Live to the location of the missing person anywhere in the world! There are No Monitoring Fees, No Monthly Fees, No Call Charges in fact No Fees what so ever! Consider this safety device as a "Must Have"

See http://www.theswish.ie/swish-tracker.html

A fellow caregiver answered...

A few comments on the above answers. A lawyer here in Kentucky told me about a man who's wife had Alzheimer's and a habit of walking away from their house. The first two times he called 911 to report her missing, the police found her and brought her home. The third time they warned him to keep her from doing it or he would face legal problems. The fourth time she left home they picked her up and put her in a state mental hospital 100 miles away.

My wife has had Alzheimer's for about 5 years now and I am her sole caregiver. My wife frequently gets up at odd hours of the night and gets completely dressed. Most times she wakes me with her walking around the house. I find her wearing her coat and hat and carrying her pocketbook. Since I am alone with her and I must get some sleep I bought some battery powered alarms to put on the outside doors and I installed a key-operated inside dead bolt lock on the front door. In other words I have transformed my home into a prison.

The only advise I get on this problem is to hire a night worker to sit in the house while we sleep for $20 an hour. That is absurd and expensive. I also have noted that none of those $5000 a month assisted living nursing homes make any effort to lock the patients indoors. One of them even has a stupid commercial on TV of two male aids watching a patient sit on a tractor outdoors after sunset.

Home Depot has $15 tool box alarms that I installed on the doors. The worst thing it does is ruin a good night's sleep when it goes off.