by Dennis Patouhas
Several years ago, I learned some very useful tips to help families protect their loved ones from wandering. The chance that someone with dementia may wander is a very real risk. When we meet with families seeking help with mom or dad who has developed dementia, we do not ask if they wander? instead we ask, “have they wondered yet”? According to the Alzheimer’s Association “Anyone who has memory problems and is able to walk is at risk for wandering. Even in the early stages of dementia, a person can become disoriented or confused for a period of time.”
What I learned was that a person with dementia is not going to walk through a door with the reflection of someone that they don’t recognize right before them. Because the disease has progressed to a point where what they see in the mirror is a stranger. They don’t recognize and as a result will not go forward.
Having just read another article, Mirrors and Dementia: 10 Solutions for Challenging Behavior, I learned another perspective on how mirrors affect someone afflicted with this condition. In that article they point out that “seeing their reflection in a mirror can cause anxiety, anger or even hysterical terror”. The article proceeds to list a number of reasons why mirrors can be a bad combination when mixed with dementia. Clearly seeing what they think is a stranger instead of their own reflection can be frightening. Taking that a step further, they might consider that person to be an intruder and that would provoke fear. And if that were not enough, the person may have agitation in the bathroom and resist bathing when a mirror suggests that there is a stranger in that room. One solution with two differing viewpoints. Are the consequences worse than the cure? Depending upon the individual, pursuing some of the many other solutions might be tried first.
WHY DO PEOPLE WITH DEMENTIA WANDER
Esther Heerema author of Prevent Wandering in Dementia by Understanding Its Common Causes attributes numerous reasons for why dementia persons wander;
Searching for a Bathroom - taping a large picture of a toilet on the bathroom door can sometimes assist with this.
Hunger - try offering small, healthy snacks more frequently to make sure this need is met.
Attempting to Go to Work - This person may benefit from a more structured day, such as an adult activity program or being given specific tasks to do.
Restlessness - Give adequate opportunity to exercise. If your loved one already has had a long walk, it’s less likely that she’ll want or need another long walk right away.
Discomfort or Pain - Sometimes pain or discomfort that is relieved by frequently walking.
Hallucinations or Paranoia - seeing or hearing things that are not there, they may be experiencing some psychosis.
Searching for Home - "home" in dementia might mean their actual current or most recent house, their childhood house, or simply something that looks and feels familiar.
Boredom and Loneliness - Offering engaging and meaningful activities can improve quality of life and may decrease restlessness and wandering.
Other Wandering Prevention Tips
Locks on Doors - Install a deadbolt lock on the exterior door. You may want to install it a higher or lower level than you usually would so that it is not near eye level. Do ensure that someone with dementia is not locked in a home alone in case of an emergency.
Dark Floor Mats -Placed in front of an exterior door looks like a hole to someone suffering from dementia and will probably be avoided.
Stop Signs on Doors or Areas - Place stop signs on doors you don’t want him to go through. The usual response to a stop sign is so ingrained that it often continues to evoke that same response.
Alarms / GPS Monitoring Service - You can install an alarm on the exterior doors so that if, for example, you’re sleeping at night, it will sound if someone tries to exit the door.
You can also consider a Global Positioning System service. These are available through several online companies and offer different options. They usually have an initial cost and often an ongoing monthly cost as well.
Enroll in the Alzheimer's Association MedicAlert + Safe Return program
This program provides you with an ID bracelet or pendant with information about your loved one, as well as a 24 hours/day emergency response system including law enforcement notification if your loved one is missing.
Comfort Keepers of Lower Fairfield County has been providing senior care services for over 17 years. As one of the oldest agencies in the area we have helped hundreds of families with elder care for their loved ones. Our area of home care service covers Greenwich to Bridgeport and includes such towns as Stamford and Norwalk. As part of one of the largest systems for in-home care with over 700 offices nationwide we have solutions to senior care issues where you need them. Call us at (203) 266-1227.