Adult children of aging parents with dementia often share with us that their greatest fear is that their wandering mom or dad will walk outside their door, out into the street and either become injured, lost, or both!
It’s certainly a natural fear and, to be honest, not an unwarranted one. We regularly read about or hear on the radio accounts of missing seniors with descriptions of what they were wearing and where they were last seen. It’s scary to think of someone you love walking alone in a strange neighborhood, disoriented and vulnerable.
The good news is that there are things you and your family can do to put a margin of safety between your loved one and the world they once knew so well, but can no longer properly navigate. Here are 5 key areas where you can take actions to help prevent your loved one from potentially dangerous wandering:
- Arm your loved one with identification and information. An identification bracelet or pendant can be a lifesaver if your mom or dad gets lost. Make sure it includes a description, such as “memory impaired”, along with any medical information. You can also create a few small cards with simple instructions, such as “Call home xxx-xxxx” with your phone number. Make sure the cards are in a couple of your loved one’s pockets so that they can easily find them. You should also have your loved one registered in the Alzheimer’s Safe Return program, a 24-hour emergency response service.
- Retrofit the home with new locks. Old, familiar locks are too easy to unlatch. Take the time to install new locks and bolts. Ideally have them placed up high or down low, out of the line of vision.
- Encourage opportunities for exercise. Studies show that insufficient exercise can exacerbate the tendency to wander. Make sure that your mom or dad takes supervised walks around the backyard, or engages in regular light exercise work outs each day.
- Involve neighborhood friends. Trusted neighbors can be great partners in your efforts to keep your loved one safe. Let them know of your concerns and make sure they know how to handle the situation and who to contact.
- Keep the home safe and free of clutter. Wandering also happens right in the home and can become a safety hazard if common walkways are not cleared of clutter and rugs are not skid proof. Make sure unnecessary furniture is moved out of the way and that there is plenty of room for your mom or dad to walk around without encountering obstacles.
Finally, recognize that the time may come when it makes sense to consider a community devoted to memory care, such as Anthem Memory Care. Anthem communities have been built from the ground up specifically to create an environment that is loving, safe, and yet not confining for those with dementia. Tour a local community and you will see how the layout is ideal for those inclined to wander.