The Macomb Daily
Alzheimer’s Association offers preventative tips for those at risk of wandering away
The “sundowning” confusion that increases as daylight begins to fade in individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can lead to a higher risk of wandering and getting lost.
The condition is still a mystery but the Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Chapter is working to raise awareness of the risks and help families and caregivers prevent it from happening with their loved one.
“Wandering is a good thing to be prepared for as milder weather entices more people outside,” said Jean Barnas, program services director for the Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Chapter. “Additionally, as we approach daylight saving time, sundowning can create additional confusion and risk of wandering for those living with Alzheimer’s.”
People with Alzheimer’s disease lose their ability to recognize familiar places and faces. An estimated 60% of people living with dementia will wander at least once; many do so repeatedly. If they are not found within 24 hours, up to half of wandering individuals will suffer serious injury caused by the weather such as hypothermia or dehydration or sustain a fall. If they wander into a street it could even prove fatal.
Some of the signs of wandering include returning from a regular walk or drive later than usual; forgetting how to get to familiar places; talking about fulfilling former obligations, such as going to work; trying or wanting to “go home,” even when they are at home; and having difficulty locating familiar places. Even something as simple as finding their way to a bathroom, bedroom or dining room can be a sign. Individuals who are wandering typically have a destination or purpose — they start out for instance going to the bathroom or going to work — but disorientation can cause them to get lost.
Knowing that these situations can arise is the first step in prevention. The following is a list of other tips compiled by the Alzheimer’s Association of Michigan:
• If you know an individual is prone to the problems that arise from sundowning and are more likely to wander in the evening — plan activities to do during that time that may reduce their restlessness.
• A person with dementia might forget that they are no longer able to drive — so be sure they do not have access to car keys.
• Avoid busy places that are confusing and can cause disorientation, such as shopping malls or festivals unless you have plenty of support with you.
• Place deadbolts out of the line of sight, either high or low, on exterior doors. You might even consider locks on other doors that might lead to steps or areas where a person can get hurt if they’re confused about where they are, like a basement or workshop.
• Use night lights throughout the home.
• Consider installing warning bells above doors or even a monitoring device that signals when a door is opened.
• Besides the car keys, consider storing away other items that may trigger a person’s instinct to leave, such as coats, hats, pocketbooks and wallets.
• Never leave a person with Alzheimer’s or another dementia alone in a car.
• Carry a recent, closeup photo of the person in your purse or wallet in case the person goes missing and you need to give it to the police or ask for help.
• Create a list of places the person might wander to, such as past jobs, former homes, places of worship or a favorite restaurant.
Thanks to a generous donor, the Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Chapter is able to offer families and caregivers a free membership and renewal for MedicAlert Jewelry that helps to locate an individual who might wander and get lost.
Those interested must register through the Chapter in order to receive it but there is no out-of-pocket cost to the person living with Alzheimers or dementia or their caregiver. The service provides 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with dementia who wander and have a medical emergency.
Caitlin Goyer, who is a main contact for the Michigan Chapter’s Helpline calls and registers individuals for the MedicAlert jewelry program can attest to the value and impact such a device can have.
“One caregiver’s husband had been leaving the house without warning very frequently recently,” she said. “She would always find him, but she was so afraid that someday he would wander farther.”
She had been relying on a phone app to track him, but the last time he wandered, he didn’t take his phone. That’s when the caregiver knew she needed something more.
“When I suggested MedicAlert, she was thrilled,” Goyer said. “She called me a few weeks after having the bracelet and told me that it has given her such peace of mind.”
If a person with dementia does wander away from the home and can’t immediately be located, take the following action:
• Start search efforts immediately, including in lesstraveled areas of the house. Consider whether the individual is left- or right-handed — wandering patterns generally follow the direction of the dominant hand.
• Begin by looking in the surrounding vicinity — many individuals who wander are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared.
• If the person is not found within 15 minutes, call 911 to file a missing person’s report. Inform the authorities that the person has dementia and is a “vulnerable adult.”
For further assistance contact the Alzheimer’s Association’s Helpline 24/7 at 800272-3900.
For more information, visit alz.org/safety.