A woman in her mid-70s, in South Portland, gets in her car and heads north. It's April 2009; snow still on the ground. She drives five hours or so and winds up in the deep woods near Moosehead Lake. She turns onto a logging road and continues until her car gets stuck in the mud. The next day she is found by snowmobilers. She is alive, wearing one boot. With the help of local authorities, she is taken back home. (https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106598816)
Did you know that “6 in 10 people living with Dementia will wander at least once”? (Alzheimer's Association)
Wandering happens in a second; it's important to have safety measures and assistance in place for when this happens. At the time it will be not only scary for you but could be dangerous for them. People who wander run the risk of becoming dehydrated, suffer from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, falling, getting injured ect.
Here are some things you can do to limit their opportunities to wander:
Provide them with plenty of stimulation; sometimes people wander as they are bored and looking for something to do, looking for their kids or have the need to go to work. Keep them busy if possible. Provide opportunities for social engagement, feelings of being productive and contributing. (ie fold laundry, sweep floors, setting the table ect)
Place large stop signs on the exit doors. A stop sign is a universal sign that everyone recognizes.
Keep shoes off when in the house. (People associate that wearing shoes, means they are going somewhere).
Keep to a routine as much as possible.
Purchase ID bracelets with contact information, or GPS tracking on phones, shoes ect to help find someone.
Make sure that your neighbors are aware that your loved one may wander and give them your phone # so that if they seem them out and about, they can call you.
The minute you realize someone with Dementia is gone, TAKE ACTION:
- Call on neighbors to help you look as well as police officers. - Have a current picture available for recognition. -People tend to wander in the direction of their dominant side; (if they are right-handed, they go to the right)
-If there are places, they like to go, have someone check there, as they may go to familiar places. (a past job site, a park or store close by ect)
-Have someone at home, in case the person comes back.
There are many resources available to help with Wandering- don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
Sheri Reber is a licensed Social Service Worker, Certified Dementia Practitioner, Trainer, RCI REACH Caregiver Coach and Therapeutic Recreation Technician. She has been with the Area Agency on Aging- Five County since 2015, and has worked in the social services field in Southwest Utah since 1995.