One of the most terrifying aspects in the daily challenges of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient is the fact that Alzheimer’s suffers will wander off without the capabilities of communicating either where they are going and why, or the ability of letting loved ones know where they are. If you someone you love has Alzheimer’s, or you are a primary care giver, you will need to know some of the circumstances they will leave under, and what you can do about it to help keep them safe, so you will have a little peace of mind.
Alzheimer’s suffers do not wander off to be mean or hateful to the people they love, or to their caregiver. They simply lack the knowledge to know better. With my experience in dealing with Alzheimer’s and my father, I learned a few very valuable lessons and found ways that I could keep him safe. First, it is necessary to understand the different situations that Alzheimer’s suffers use to get out of your line of site. Like children, Alzheimer’s patients can and will find a way to dupe you in order to wander off. Curiosity of often the source of the problem but you can help stop it. The list below will tell you some of the occasions that you need to be wary of.
• People with Alzheimer’s will leave their beds after you have gone to sleep. Their sleep and wake cycle is off track because of the damage that is taking place in their brain from the effects of the disease. Keeping them awake for longer periods of time, or shorter durations of naps, seemed to help my father a lot. Finally, it was necessary to ask his doctor for a mild sleeping pill to help him rest at night. My father still had some issues with sleeping, but it did help us and him rest better at night, without the dangers of him leaving the house, which he had been doing for quite some time.
• People with Alzheimer’s will wander off in stores when you are not looking. If you do go shopping for any extended periods, take along a person that will help you keep up with them a spotter so to speak. Some of the dangers are of course, wandering out of the mall or store into a dangerous parking lot, or even being mugged and hurt in a struggle. My father naturally loved children, and he would never hurt one, so I often found him lovingly showing toys to other children, or sitting on a floor playing a game with the children. Some parents do not like it, and all too often there were snide comments and threats made. Bring along a trusty adult to help them stay safe.
• People with Alzheimer’s will leave the safety of a vehicle whether moving or sitting still. It sounds unbelievable that anyone would open a car door when it’s still moving, but my father did. At that time this happened there were no safety child locks in our car. He needed to be close to me I felt, in case he became ill or began choking for any reason, so the doors remained locked and his seatbelt in place, and the door handle pull was eventually taped over with duct tape. Be sure to watch you loved one when traveling in a vehicle of any type, use child door locks and make sure they are locked in with a seatbelt securely.
• People with Alzheimer’s may go to a public restroom only to walk out and leave it, forgetting what they even went there for, or who they are with. My father went to the bathroom in a restaurant and walked into the parking lot looking for a ride to go home. Never leave let them go to the bathroom in a public place by themselves. If you are of the opposite sex, just stand outside and wait. If necessary ask an employee to go in and check. Make use of yourself though before your loved ones goes in the restroom to make sure there are not exit doors in the bathroom itself.
• People with Alzheimer’s will leave a hospital bed. Hospitals are a busy place, and it is often that nurses and orderlies will not see your loved one leave. Make sure that either you or a full time sitter is available so they will not leave. Also, make sure to tell the front desk verbally and in writing that your loved one has Alzheimer’s, and that they will need extra attention if they wander, as so many other Alzheimer’s patients do. It could be necessary to put a beeper on them, ankle bracelet, or even in a lock down area of the hospital for their safety.
There are a few wonderful resources on the Internet to learn about the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, and what you can do to help them learn to live with it, and some statistics on wandering. Check out http://www.alz.org and http://www.dbs-sar.com . The DBS website is a source for information on search and rescue research, and other publications and training.