Wandering is a Dangerous Problem for People with Dementia
Here’s an attention getter about the wandering of people who have Alzheimer’s disease: “Texas Silver Alert (a missing persons system for dementia patients) , which has strict criteria for who qualities for listing, issued 157 alerts since its Sept. 1, 2007 start – almost seven times the number issued by the Amber Alert program for abducted and endangered children. Texas Department of Public Safety Spokeswoman Tela Mange said 144 missing elderly people were found alive; 11 were found dead or died shortly after recovery; two remain missing,” reporter Allan Turner wrote in Sunday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle.
Wandering can be a very difficult problem with which to deal, not only for the family, but also for the person who has dementia and those who come into contact with the person. “When a confused person becomes disoriented and lost, he may feel frightened. Because some people do not understand dementia, strangers who try to help the individual may think he is drunk or insane,” wrote Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins in “The 36-Hour Day.”
However, the wandering may not be limited to just walking. Turner reported that data from the Texas DPS’s Silver Alert program almost always cars “With impaired short-term memory but clear recollection of their earlier lives, such men and women often strike out for former residences or workplaces,” Turner stated. In big cities such as Houston, people with Alzheimer’s who have access to cars often end up on freeways. The article describes the wandering of one Houston-area man with early onset Alzheimer’s who drove away from his home. He thought he was driving to Galveston (which is in the Houston area), but instead ended up 350 miles away in Brownsville, which is on Texas’ border with Mexico.
One solution is placing a bracelet on the person with their name, address, phone number, and that they’re mentally impaired. The bracelet needs to be securely fastened so that the person with dementia is not able to remove it. The Houston Chronicle article also noted that the Alzheimer’s Association enrolls people with dementia in a registry that makes their photos and vital information available to police.
Mace and Rabins suggest that if you are moving the loved one with dementia to a new environment, you should involve the loved one in the move. “When a person is still able to understand and participate in what is going on around him, it may help to introduce them gradually to his new situation,” they wrote. Know that moving a person who has dementia can prompt them to wander more temporarily.
I can especially relate to this last point since Mom often would “wander” in her wheelchair after being moved to different rooms two times at the nursing home. Fortunately (and sadly), Mom’s lung capacity due to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) was so limited that she wasn’t able to wander away. Otherwise, my stubborn mom would have been out the door and down the block – and lost – in no time flat after being discombobulated by the move. Therefore, it’s important to really be proactive in helping the loved one with dementia feel “at home” in order to lower the chance of wandering.