How Do I Keep my Dad From Leaving the House at Night?

4 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

My Dad has moderate-severe dementia. He is 80 and lives with my mom. They have a caregiver during the day but not at night. Most nights are fine, but twice he has left the house in the middle of the night and my Mom could't find him. There is an alarm that sounds as soon as he leaves the house. Usually that will scare him into coming back inside, but twice he has left and wandered outside where he has fallen nearby. Mom called us right away and we were able to get over there and find him fairly quickly and so far he has not had any major injuries (scrapes, a sore wrist.) But the experience was very traumatizing (especially for my Mother) and potentially very dangerous. They live in a wooded area, so I know he would not be able to make it to a main road before we got there. Of course that makes it easier for him to trip and harder to find him when he falls.

We've been tempted to internal deadbolts that can only be opened with a key, but we know that poses a fire hazard. Is there anything that we can do? Is there any kind of lock available that would be too complicated for my Dad to open but that my arthritic Mom could still open? Any suggestions?

Expert Answers

Ron Kauffman is a certified senior advisor (CSA), senior lifestyle radio host, syndicated newspaper columnist, and the author of Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's Disease. In addition, Kauffman is also the primary caregiver for his mother, who has Alzheimer's.

Keeping Alzheimer's patients that wander safe can be a challenge. In your situation, the answer can be found on the internet at

They have locks that will prevent your dad from opening the bedroom door and be easy for your mom to use and operate.

Best of luck.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

You might try a keypad lock or even a magnetic lock. Since your mom has arthritis, you might look into a fingerprint reader if you go the magnetic lock route. This would eliminate the need to use a key to open the lock, but still keep unauthorized persons from opening the lock and the door.

Smileitsme63 answered...

How about an alarm before he gets to the door . She can turn it on at night like in a hall when he passes the light activated alarm it would wake her up . She could also have it at the door of their room when he leaves the room it would wake her . I'm sure she wouldn't want him roaming the house while she is asleep there's so many dangers inside also like turning on the gas trying to cook. The alarm would alert her to so many things not just him going outside. My dad was in a lock down unit at a nursing home for trying to escape . Even when he wasn't able to communicate well with us he was still able to figure out how to get out the door and escape . They had people that would pick him up walking down a busy road in Dallas and notice his bracelet telling them where he belonged and they would bring him back and drop him off . He had a monitor on his ankle and he figured out how to get it off without it alerting them then he figured out how to get out the door which required a 4 digit # and there's no way he would ever figure that out . But he was smart enough to watch people coming and going one person would put in a # but several would walk out . So he waited for a group to put in the # and they would all walk out and right before the door closed he grabbed the door . His goal was to get back to his home in Plains Tx thank God for nice people smart enough to tell he shouldn't be walking down a street or hitch hiking . They might not be able to communicate with us anymore but don't under estimate their ability Ti figure out how to do something they really want to do. Good luck with your dad.....

Deborah cooke answered...

Hi. This is very frustrating for many people. Making adaptations to the environment is important and finding the right one can be difficult. In addition to the environment, I recommend you consider signing up and "registering" your father with the Alzheimer's Association Safe Return program. There is a fee, but it likely is worth your peace of mind. They also have some wonderful resources and tips for handling wanderers, for example, putting locks in hard to find places (high or low on the door), camoflauging the door, etc.

It sounds like he does not drive, but most states have a silver alert system, like the amber alert. You can report a missing senior and alert drivers to the missing person's car model, type, license plate number, etc. It's an additional resource to have in your back pocket, just in case.

All my best in finding the right solution for your father.