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Summer for Someone with Alzheimer’s

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6 in 10 people with Alzheimer’s disease will wander. Wandering is best described as a tendency to roam or walk around without a clear destination or purpose. For those with Alzheimer’s disease, the destination or purpose of the walk is often forgotten, causing them to become confused or lost. 

As a caregiver, you must be concerned about the safety of someone who wanders. There may be no harm in wandering a contained space, but for someone with dementia who gets lost outside, the risk of injury is high. You would not allow a child to roam. A senior with dementia may have equivalent judgment. 

There are several reasons why a person who has dementia might wander, and understanding these will help you put some practical interventions in place: 

  • Stress, fear, and anxiety 
  • Searching for important people, such as old friends or family members 
  • Searching for the bathroom 
  • Searching for food 
  • Visual-spatial challenges 
  • Memory loss 
  • Boredom, especially at night (called sundowning) and restlessness 
  • Pain 
  • Poor sleep, restlessness 

People with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia may have pain and can’t express it verbally, so they wander to find relief.  Overstimulating environments can also cause anxiety and the urge to “get away.” 

Home Adaptations to Support Safe Wandering: 

  • Keep spaces clutter-free to minimize fall risk 
  • Remove rugs to minimize risk of falls 
  • Eliminate the need to use stairs 
  • Lock the stovetop to prevent your loved one from trying to cook 
  • Keep windows and doors locked 
  • Install alarms on all exterior doors 
  • Camouflage doors–hang curtains over exterior doors to make them less visible 
  • Use a pressure-sensitive alarm mat to notify you when your loved one gets up at night 
  • Install gates to dissuade entry to unsafe areas of the house, including stairs 
  • Fence in the backyard to allow your loved one access without risk 
  • Install safety locks on kitchen cabinets 
  • Lock up all medications and cleaning products 

Behavioral Strategies for Wandering Caused by Dementia 

Knowing that part of the cause of wandering is boredom, anxiety, and fear, learning behavioral strategies to keep your loved one occupied can prevent unsafe wandering. The added benefit is reducing unwanted agitation and frustration. 

Here are some ways to help a loved one with dementia:  

  • Redirect and distract with an activity or exercise 
  • Find out if your loved one is in pain, too hot or cold, thirsty, or hungry 
  • Minimize noise and overstimulation 
  • Turn on the music–music has been found to have a calming effect on people with dementia 
  • Listen to your loved one’s concerns with compassion, and to the extent you can, try and alleviate their fears and anxieties 
  • Provide lots of healthy snacks–wandering uses excess energy reserves and frequent snacks can help offset weight loss caused by dementia 

While it may be impossible to prevent wandering completely, you will want to permit safe wandering and reduce the risk of falls. Most importantly, measures should be taken to prevent your loved one with Alzheimer’s from venturing outdoors, particularly in Florida, where summer heat can be life-threatening. 

Technology for People with Dementia 

Safety products that permit safe wandering have come a long way over the years. Today, there are a range of devices to manage and monitor your loved one’s activities and give yourself a break from constant supervision. 

  • An Emergency Response System (ERS) detects falls and has built-in GPS tracking 
  • In-home video monitors with continuous feeds can be monitored via smartphones 
  • Smart sensors collect data, detect unusual movement, and monitor for smoke and carbon dioxide 
  • Safety Alarms alert you to movement and can be installed on beds, chairs, wheelchairs, doors, and windows 

Constant supervision and interaction with your loved one can be exhausting, expensive, and time-consuming. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses and symptoms and behaviors become more than you can manage at home, a memory care community can help. These communities are specifically designed for those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and provide around-the-clock care to assure the safety and well-being of those with memory challenges and wandering symptoms. 

While most seniors face major adjustments when transitioning to an elder-care community, Jewish seniors face additional challenges. Not only do they lose their homes, and many of their friends, but they also lose ties to their cultural heritage. This is where the Jewish Pavilion, a 501c3 non-profit, steps in. The Pavilion serves as a resource that provides room visits, festive holiday celebrations, and more to 450 Jewish residents across 50 senior facilities. The Jewish Pavilion promotes inclusion, and thousands of seniors of all faiths are welcomed into our programs.

The Orlando Senior Help Desk (407-678-9363) helps thousands of callers navigate their way through the daunting senior maze, alleviating caregiver stress while giving advice on all types of elder issues.