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Published on: April 1, 2012
by Frena Gray-Davidson for Alzheimers:
Don’t think Alzheimer’s experts know any more than you about Alzheimer’s behaviors. They don’t. So, your guess is as good as theirs. And, speaking as a longtime Alzheimer’s dementia caregiver, frankly I think caregiver guesses are better than most other people’s. So there.
So, why does Alzheimer Dad go wandering?
First, he is probably used to the natural freedom that everyone without Alzheimer’s has — which includes the right to go walking. Remember, Alzheimer’s wandering is your walking. We call it wandering only because we don’t want people with Alzheimer’s to do it. We are therefore labeling it with caregiver jargon.
People with dementia lose all their rights. Of course, it’s to keep them safe, but they don’t remember it that way.
Why Do People With Alzheimer’s Wander?
1. They self-medicate anxiety with walking;
2. They are bored by your care;
3. They want to do something;
4. They want to go somewhere, anywhere but where they are;
5. Maybe they’re looking for something they feel is lost — like, their former life.
So, one of the best things to do is to actually have a walking program for them. Anyone can take them and probably it shouldn’t be too far, since they can be easily exhausted. You can organize a walking path in your garden, if you can trust them not to leave.
Or think about a day program if there is one locally. That’s something different to do. Which is usually what is needed.
Once you know someone does wander, at least on occasion, you need to secure your doors so you know if they leave or try to leave. You don’t really need anything hi-tech.
The things people I know have used successfully have been:
1. a set of brass bells hanging on a door-handle;
2. that cheap set of buzzer and five activators that you can put on doors. Not at all expensive — I think around $7 and in most budget stores and hardware places;
3. a warning door chime;
4. an ankle bracelet that sets off a perimeter alarm.
If your person does get out, unnoticed by you, of course you need to go find them. Before you do that, call the police and give a description.
If you have already tagged them with a GPS unit, then your search will be much easier. Check on-line to find great prices on personal GPS systems. It’s something you can tag on the back of someone’s pants each day, for example.
If you are looking for someone not tagged, know that people with dementia are most likely to simply continue walking in a forward direction. If you have straight highways from your door, I’d follow those first. If you’re calling out for them, call by name, not by role. So Frank, not Dad. That’s because they may be in a much younger time-zone state of mind where they weren’t a Dad.
I know you will already have got a non-removable ID on your person. Not in a pocket but on a bracelet, anklet or dogtag. You can get these from the Alzheimer’s Association but they’re much cheaper from your local Walmart or equivalent. Put on their name, something like “memory-impaired” and the most relevant phone number. People lose wallets and handbags really easily, so any ID must be on the person’s body not in a pocket or a handbag.
So, think of your Mom or Dad as needing what anyone needs — time out and something to do. Build that into their daily routine.
Here’s your checklist of safe keeping:
2. GPS unit;
3. Photo, to give police and other searchers;
4. Door security;
5. Activity plan.
May all Dementia Dad’s journey be short and safe ones.
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