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
Boredom is often the cause. Finding
interesting activities to fill your patient's time may stop his or her
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
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
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
What are some of the dangers of patient
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
Getting lost. Attach ID tags to your patient's
clothing and include identification and your address and phone number in your
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?
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
Hang a picture over a doorknob to disguise
Use a product like "the stopper" which easily attaches
to doors and discourages entry out. See the wandering products
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
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
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 www.alz.org. 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.