What is Dementia Wandering, and Why is it Dangerous?
Important note: If you found this article because an elderly loved one has wandered off and can’t be located, call 911 right away. Do not wait 24 hours or even 30 minutes. Every second is crucial to getting the person home safely. Tell the police that the missing person has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, the whole family starts a new journey full of new and often challenging experiences. One of those challenges is the risk of dementia wandering, common among those experiencing progressive cognitive impairment diseases. Leaving a safe area by a person with dementia is also called elopement.
Wandering occurs due to the changes in the brain caused by dementia. When the person wanders, they often have a particular destination in mind, such as a childhood home, school, playground, or another place that once brought them joy. They may also wander because they want to escape an uncomfortable environment, whether it exists at home or in a public setting. They are, too, often operating using their long-term memories – seeking places they knew well 5 – 25 or more years ago
Dementia wandering can be very dangerous because the disorientation caused by the disease can result in them getting lost and having difficulty finding their way home. In the meantime, the person can become dehydrated, miss a scheduled medication, be injured, or worse. Whether in the home or in an Assisted or Memory community, all appropriate steps need to be taken to keep the person from following their older memories and seeking an exit.
As a Senior Living Advisor and dementia specialist (Mike McClernon, 516-254-9481), I understand how stressful it can be for families to manage and prevent episodes of dementia wandering. Fortunately, Memory Care communities offer a safe living alternative that takes the worry away from families attempting to prevent wandering on their own.
The challenges of managing dementia wandering at home
Providing home care for someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia isn’t easy. It requires training, skills, and a lot of patience and empathy to be able to manage someone with a cognitive condition on a daily basis.
Dementia wandering adds a new level of concern into the mix. A wandering event can happen at any time – day or night – and in the blink of an eye. It only takes you leaving the room for a few seconds for someone to slip out the door. Ongoing supervision will eventually become necessary to prevent wandering, but you can’t be expected to keep a watchful eye around the clock every single day.
You may also have to make modifications to your home to prevent wandering, such as obscuring doors with neutral floor mats, wallpaper, or paint that matches the room’s décor, or installing alarms, warning bells, and motion-detection devices at all exit points, including windows. It’s also a good idea to install a warning device in their bed, so you’re alerted if they get out of bed at night.
Another important strategy is to hide car keys, store flyers, or anything else that might suggest to your loved one that they need to go somewhere.
Despite your best efforts, the person might still wander. It’s not their fault – it’s just the nature of the disease.
As the disease progresses over time, it may become unwieldy for your family to manage your elderly loved one properly. That’s where placement in Memory Care becomes the ideal solution to keep them safe and happy and provide an environment where they will thrive.
How Memory Care Helps Manage Dementia Wandering
Understandably, families can’t watch their loved ones 24/7, even if they live in the same house. That’s why many families ask me about Memory Care. These specialized communities have various devices that help prevent wandering and keep residents safe and accounted for at all times, including:
- Alarms on all the exits
- Keypad exits with 10 second delays on attempts to open outside doors without first putting in a special code
- Personal, wearable devices that alert central staff when a senior with dementia has left their protected area
These safety protocols don’t force residents into a perpetual state of lockdown – far from it! The specially-trained staff in Memory Care provides residents with ample opportunities to socialize, participate in engaging activities, and share meals in the common dining hall. From the colors on the walls to the place settings in the dining halls to the brain-healthy food selections, the entire community is designed to stimulate cognitive activity. As a result, many families have told me that placement in Memory Care has actually slowed the progression of dementia in their loved ones.
In my experience, dementia wandering is most effectively managed in Memory Care, taking the responsibility away from families so they can focus on spending more quality time and creating happier memories with their elderly loved ones.
Find Assisted Living/Memory Care on Long Island
When it’s time to explore Assisted Living/Memory Care options for an elderly loved one, it’s crucial to find a community that suits their needs, wants, and lifestyle. Working with Mike McClernon of Assisted Living Locators of Long Island can give you the best chance of finding a Senior Living Community that’s perfect for your family member.
Mike has collaborated with hundreds of families just like yours to help find the most appropriate Memory Care Community for their older relatives. He will ensure that you have all the information you need to decide where your loved ones will thrive and be well cared for during their vintage years.