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Missouri Chapter of Alzheimer’s Association offers tips to prevent someone with Alzheimer’s, dementia from wandering

Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 4:37 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Many people may know someone who is living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. For friends, family and caretakers, wandering can cause a lot of concern.

Sarah Lovegreen, Vice President of Programs with the Greater Missouri Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, says six out of ten people living with the disease will wander at some point.

Lovegreen says if the person with Alzheimer’s lives alone, it’s important for family or the caretaker to have check-in points throughout the day.

”Having an agreed upon time,” Lovegreen says. “Maybe morning phone calls. Maybe another neighbor or another family member can check in midday and then also just having that evening check-in are good things to do. Also, just having conversations around what their schedule is for the day.”

Lovegreen says using door handles or covering door knobs with fabric can be a quick thing family members can do. If the caretaker or a family member is living with the person who has the disease, they can also add new locks to doors or putting a screen in front of a door that leads outside.

“Putting a door lock high or low on the door can help keep it out of line of sight,” Lovegreen says.

If it’s possible, she suggests a fenced in backyard so they are able to walk around and have space without the risk of them wandering off.

“Re-channeling that into some physical activity can also help diminish the desire to wander if we’re providing people with those opportunities to be physically active,” Lovegreen says.

Another tip is to put away things you would wear outside.

“Your coat, your hat, those things put away where they go versus hanging on the back of a chair,” Lovegreen says. “It will not necessarily prompt someone to think oh it’s time for me to go outside.”

Seth Harrell helped care for his mother while she lived at home. Harrell says his mother’s wandering started off in the house, going into different rooms, forgetting where she was and getting lost getting back to her room.

“If you get into the kitchen, you can get into dangerous things in there,” Harrell says. “Turn the stove on, walk away, things like that. We even had plans to turn off the circuit breaker that controlled the stove and the oven.”

However, Harrell says she started getting lost while on walks. That’s when him and his father emphasized how important it was she had access to her phone.

“We put a lanyard on her phone so she could wear it around her neck so that it was always right there,” Harrell says. “If we couldn’t find her we could call her and it would ring. It was easy for her to grab. But that was only successful while she was physically able to understand how to use her phone.”

Lovegreen says technology can help play a role in keeping people safe.

“We have a lot of ring doorbells that can look for motion,” Lovegreen says. “We can also think about seeing when the door locks and unlocks because we have an electronic version of that as well. Have a conversation with them about this.”

Harrell says it can be really hard for caretakers to implement these changes to the home but the sooner, the better.

“You don’t want to have it feel like a prison even though it might be their own house,” Harrell says. “There’s little good options and you’ve got to make safety your number one priority.”

Every case is situational but Lovegreen says they do offer tips to people who keep guns in the house.

“Really having a conversation with caregivers that may have guns in the home to determine what’s best in terms of storage and safety,” Lovegreen says. “There are a lot of safe ways to store those. We also want to think about if there is a time that’s appropriate to not have those in the home at all.”

If they do wander, Lovegreen says they often stay within about a mile-and-a-half of the home.

“They may be talking about a need to visit a family member or the need to go to work,” Lovegreen says. “That may trigger some ideas of the direction the person might have gone.”

They often wander in the direction of their dominant hand.

“The person’s right-handed, they’re more likely to turn right out of the home,” Lovegreen says. “If they’re left-handed, they’re more likely to turn left so that may also give a hint to caregivers in thinking of the direction someone went.”

It’s important to keep car keys out of their sight if they aren’t able to drive anymore.

“Someone may forget that they don’t drive anymore and may get in the car and drive away,” Lovegreen says. “Next thing you know they’re not sure where they are and they’re confused on how to get home. In a car, you can get far really fast.”

If they have a history of wandering, Lovegreen says try searching for them for about 15 minutes before calling police.

“If you keep looking and you can’t find that person, super important to go ahead and call the authorities and get some assistance on that,” Lovegreen says. “If you have a recent picture that’s really important. As adults age we don’t necessarily have that current photo so a current photo of your loved one can help facilitate finding a missing individual.”

Missouri State Highway Patrol can issue an Endangered Silver Advisory for individuals that suffer from dementia or other cognitive impairment.

The criteria that must be met is:

  • The person is 60-years-old or older and believed to be suffering from dementia or other cognitive impairment.
  • A legal custodian of the missing person has submitted a missing person’s report to the local law enforcement agency where the person went missing.
  • There is sufficient information available to disseminate to the public that could assist in locating the missing adult.

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