Many people affected by Alzheimer’s Disease have a tendency to wander. Though it is common behavior, it can cause high levels of stress and fear for caregivers. Wandering isn’t always harmful, but it can be if your loved one is prone to leave. Here are some tips to help ease your fears and minimize the dangers of wandering.
The most important thing is your loved one’s safety. While it may sound obvious, caregivers should never leave someone affected by the disease alone. You may think that your loved one is independent enough to care for themselves for a few minutes while you make a “quick trip” to the store. Despite their capabilities, though, your absence could spark an episode of agitation.
Confusion, frustration and boredom are known to prompt wandering behaviors. In your absence, your loved one could become confused and may even fear for your safety. They could get frustrated for being left alone, or simply get bored.
It is not burdensome to depend on your closest friends and family for help when you need to leave. If you don’t have friends or family available for this type of help, familiarize yourself with the community day programs and services that are available to help.
Remove trip hazards and install night lights so as to avoid any falls in the night. Keep dangerous items out of the reach of your loved one and consider childproofing doors and cabinets in your home.
Wandering can often be a sign of an unmet basic need such as hunger, body temperature or the need to use the restroom. Keeping your loved one occupied and content is one of the best ways to keep them from wandering. If you observe excessive fidgeting or agitation, consider what basic need must be met.
If, on the other hand, they become bored, confused, or frustrated, you will have to be more creative in finding something to appease them. Knowing what keeps your loved one content can reduce their instinct to elope. Knowing their dislikes will be imperative for avoiding escalation.
Capitalize on their likes by offering to do things they enjoy, such as turning on a sports program or their favorite music. The activity may distract your loved one from whatever agitated them in the first place.
If they have a common escape route, try strategically placing points of interest that can be used as deterrents along the way. Old pictures, for instance, may serve as a distraction. Pointing out these points of interest may engage your loved one in such a way that they forget why they were trying to leave in the first place. Food, books, and other attachment items may also prove to be simple but effective strategies.
If your loved one does elope, it may be your first instinct to tell them they need to return home. Under stress, your tone may even be on the demanding side. They are likely to resist any such requests. You can honor their independence by simply diverting their attention to conversation. “What a great idea to go on a walk today, mom! The weather is perfect, isn’t it?” Simply walk and engage in conversation. As you talk, gently and casually redirect the “walk” back to the house. Consider taking an abnormal route back inside, such as through the back door.
Making your home as wander-friendly as possible could prevent your loved one from ever leaving. Its not necessary to discourage their need to wander, but rather to maintain their safety as they do.
Contributed by Leah Bigham.