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How To Handle Wandering in Alzheimer's Disease

    ;Wandering is common among Alzheimer patients. It is estimated that more than 50% of Alzheimer patients tend to wander. Although agitation is often associated with wandering, non-agitated patients may also wander. As dementia becomes more severe, wandering tends to increase. Wandering away from home can result in serious consequences. The National Alzheimer's Association offers a program called Safe Return to caregivers and extended care facilities. You only need to register once to remain a member for the life of your patient. This U.S. government-funded program is offered for a one-time fee of $40. A discussion of the Safe Return program follows later.

Why do some patients wander? What can be done to help avoid this problem?

   Boredom is often the cause. Finding interesting activities to fill your patient's time may stop his or her wandering.
    Your patient may be searching for familiar objects. For an Alzheimer patient, familiarity is comforting. Familiar objects such as favorite pieces of furniture, clothing, and pictures should adorn their living area.
    Extroverts wander because they have been social all their lives. They continue to enjoy going places and meeting other people. These patients are continuing to live their lifelong habits. Try to involve this type of patient with group activities that can fill their need to socialize such as those offered at adult day care centers.
    Stress causes some patients to wander. Look for the triggers in your patient's environment that creates stress. See if you can avoid those triggers. Possible stressors might include change in routine, excessive noise, or exposure to unfamiliar people.
    Fear may cause your patient to leave the immediate area. Your patient may misinterpret a sound or sight. He or she may be trying to get away from it as a way to seek security and safety. If you believe that your patient is hallucinating (seeing or hearing things that are not there) make every effort to keep the patient in sight at all times by someone in your household.
    Patients may wander if they need to go to the bathroom but do not know or remember where it is. You can help by setting up a regular bathroom schedule that works best for your patient, such as every two hours. Clearly mark the bathroom with a large sign and a picture of a toilet.

What are some of the dangers of patient wandering?

    You can make your best effort to safeguard your own home for your patient, but if he or she wanders into the neighborhood, there are endless dangers. Swimming pools, yards cluttered with toys and lawn equipment, or unlocked garages with tools and poisonous liquids. Alert your neighbors to a potential wanderer. Ask them to call you immediately if they see your patient outside of the boundaries of your home. Other dangers include:
    Getting lost. Attach ID tags to your patient's clothing and include identification and your address and phone number in your patient's wallet.
    Bumping into objects. Patients increase their chances of injury and falls if they are bumping into objects because they are in an unfamiliar surrounding.

What are some preventive measures I can take if my patient is a wanderer?

   Doors and doorknobs can be a safety problem. Your patient may not realize that a door is an exit. Here are several solutions.
    To hide a doorknob, use special door knob covers,such as those listed in the wandering products section.
    Hang a picture over a doorknob to disguise it.
    Use a product like "the stopper" which easily attaches to doors and discourages entry out. See the wandering products section.
   Obtain a medical bracelet for your loved one. Have the ID bracelet engraved to read, "I AM AN ALZHEIMER PATIENT." Provide the caregiver's address and telephone number. (Keep area code changes up-to-date.)ID bracelets are available at our Safety Products section, custom engraved.
    Tell friends and neighbors and the police department that you have an Alzheimer patient at home. If they see your patient away from your home unaccompanied, they will know immediate action is necessary. Give the neighbors your telephone number, especially if it is unlisted.

What is the Alzheimer Association's Safe Return program?

    Safe Return is the only nationwide identity program for Alzheimer patients. The program operates through the National Alzheimer's Association. Since 1993, more than 72,000 patients have been registered. More than 97% of registered patients who have wandered away have been located and returned to their families. Joining Safe Return before your patient begins to wander is a sound idea.
    Once you register with the program, you supply the National Alzheimer's Association with a photograph of your patient, which becomes part of a national photo information database.You will receive wandering behavior education and training along with the telephone number of a 24-hour toll-free emergency crisis line.Once a patient is reported missing by a caregiver or family member, Safe Return immediately alerts local law enforcement agencies.

How do I register for the program?

    There are several ways to register or learn more about the program. Choose the one that is most convenient to you.Register for Safe Return by calling the National Alzheimer's Association at 1-800-272-3900. You will be asked to fill out a simple form.Visit the National Alzheimer Association's website at A list of local chapters is available at that site under "Programs and Resources." You may register through your local chapter.Call Safe Return directly at the toll-free number 1-888-572-8566.As of the year 2001, there is a one-time-only fee of $40. That fee entitles your patient to a lifetime membership.