Most caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia share this near-constant fear: In a moment of confusion, their loved ones might walk away from home and family and never find their way back.
When Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio begins working with a patient with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, one of the first questions asked of the family members is, “Does he wander?” said Amber Biacsi, manager of mental health for VNA of Ohio.
“If they say, ‘No,’ I know that just means ‘Not yet,’ ” Biacsi said. “It most likely is going to happen.”
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia, which is defined as a collection of symptoms resulting from a decline in mental function. A failing memory is one of the first signs of dementia.
Six of out 10 people with dementia will wander at some point during the course of their illness, Biacsi said. It can happen at any stage of the disease when the patient doesn’t recognize his surroundings and walks away in search of something or someone familiar.
When dementia patients wander, it can be terrifying for family members as well as the patient, who may feel lost even in his own neighborhood. In some cases, wandering behavior results from the fact that the patient has reverted back to her earliest memories and is trying to return home to a place where she may have lived many years before.
Biacsi said families and caregivers should put precautions in place before the behavior begins.
The Alzheimer’s Association advises caregivers to:
- Identify the time of day wandering seems most likely to occur and plan exercise and stress-reducing activities, such as exercise, during that period. Wandering often results from anxiety and restlessness.
- Crowded, busy places can cause people with dementia to feel disoriented and confused. Avoid settings like these.
- Develop a routine and establish a daily structure.
- During times of confusion, such as when the person is asking to “go home” or feeling lost or frightened, words of comfort go a long way. Offer reassuring statements such as, “We are safe. We will stay here, and I will be with you.”
- A person with dementia may wander if he feels hungry, thirsty or needs to use the bathroom. Make sure those needs are met.
In some cases, preventing wandering requires physical changes to the person’s environment. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends:
- Using nightlights throughout the home.
- Placing door locks out of view (slide bolts at the tops or bottoms of doors are not easily noticed)
- Using childproof doorknobs.
- Covering doorknobs with fabric the color of the door.
- Painting doors the color of the walls or covering them with curtains or other camouflaging material.
- Installing bells at the tops of doors to alert when they are opened.
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Learn more about VNA of Ohio mental health services, or call us today at 1-877-698-6264.