by the Western New York Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association
At some point in the progression of Alzheimer's disease, most people with dementia will inexplicably leave familiar surroundings and potentially endanger themselves. Extremely cold temperatures can be deadly for vulnerable people who venture outdoors unprepared for the conditions, but there are steps that can be taken to lessen the danger for the person, and avoid anxiety for family members.
The Western New York Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association can provide valuable resources and information for those with dementia and their loved ones, including ideas for preventing behaviors that could be dangerous, such as wandering from home.
"Watch for triggers, such as increased agitation, fidgeting or pacing, which can indicate their loved one wants to leave," said chapter program director Lesley Kennedy, who advises caregivers and family members to acknowledge the feelings their loved one may be experiencing and redirect them to a new activity or environment, such as a different room.
It is also critical, and easy, to improve safety in the home.
"Motion alarms, which are available at any home supply store, can be easily installed on a door. Moving locks to a higher position on a door where they are out-of-reach is also easy and effective. And camouflaging doors with curtains can divert a person from opening it and leaving," Kenney said.
Other suggestions include sticking to a routine or schedule of activities, which can be helpful in keeping those with dementia from becoming overly stimulated and overwhelmed.
Wandering is unpredictable and it usually occurs because of disorientation caused by the disease.
"It is very important for caregivers to seek assistance as soon as they realize their loved one has left the home," Kennedy said.
She recommends immediately calling 911 and indicating there is a missing vulnerable person. Be assertive and insist that all police agencies, including county and state police, launch an immediate response. Having pictures of the missing person, and a description of their clothing, is also very important, and asking friends and neighbors to join in the search or sharing the information through social media can also be beneficial.
Finally, register with a medical alert program, such as "Safe Return," which aids first responders by providing them with immediate links to your loved one's caregivers, medical records, and the Alzheimer's Association.
"You are not alone in this struggle," Kenney said. "The Alzheimer's Association has trained, confidential professionals available at any hour of the day or night to offer tips and guidance at their toll-free helpline number: 1-800-272-3900."