What's the best way to keep a parent with Alzheimer's safe from wandering at night?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Is it considered abusive to use restraints to lock a parent with Alzheimer's disease in their room at night so that they do not wander around the house?  I also use a baby monitor by the bed side to hear should she need anything.


Expert Answer

Beth Spencer is a social worker in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with more than 25 years of experience with families who have a member with dementia. She is coauthor of Understanding Difficult Behaviors and Moving a Relative with Memory Loss: A Family Caregiver's Guide. Previously, she directed Silver Club, early-stage and adult day programs serving individuals with Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses.

Yes, most professionals consider this a form of neglect or abuse. It's generally not very safe and can be extremely upsetting to the person with Alzheimer’s disease. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night and not knowing where you are.  You go to the door and discover it's locked. You're apt to feel like a prisoner, which you are. This can lead to feelings of fear, anger, or hysteria, as it would in any of us to be locked against our will in a room.  

That said, it's an extremely difficult problem for families when a parent with dementia wanders around the house in the middle of the night. A baby monitor is definitely a good idea. Some people with dementia get day and night reversed, which becomes a terrible problem for families. Melatonin (available over the counter) sometimes helps with sleep. Asking her physician for a medication to help with sleep is another option. Increased exercise during the day may help, too.

Sometimes wandering happens because the person iwakes in the night to go to the bathroom and then thinks it's morning. Make sure she's not getting lost going to or from the bathroom, which can distract her and keep her up. Nightlights or a bedside commode may help. Some families find it helpful to leave a snack by the bed with a note reminding the person that it’s the middle of the night.