If you are caring for an elderly person who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or dementia, you probably have lots of questions. It can be a frightening experience to learn of the diagnosis. But fears are usually easier to manage if you know what you can expect. Wandering is one of the most common behaviors and one of the most feared. Here are some things that will likely occur and what you can to plan for navigating this difficult stage.
It can be a nightmare if you come home from visiting friends or going to the store to notice that the elderly person is gone without a trace. The logical assumption is that the person has wandered, an occurrence that can be quite dangerous.
Adults with Alzheimer's or dementia may wander as their memories fade, and with the memory loss comes the inability to remember how to reach home from a given location. As memory fades, so does the ability to find previously well-known locations.
Even worse, persons with dementia or Alzheimer's may eventually forget what their home even looks like. They may wander outside and go two houses down and realize they don't know where they are.
Sometimes, an elderly person loses recent memories but retains older ones. It is not unknown to discover wanderers walking in neighborhoods where they lived many years before. They simply do not remember moving out.
Wandering by itself is not dangerous but the conditions which elderly persons may encounter by wandering could be deadly. Consider an elderly person who wanders out into a winter evening in Michigan. Without overnight shelter, the results could be lethal.
Fortunately, most incidents of wandering are resolved quickly and without incident. About 95% of elderly people who wander are found within a quarter of a mile from home. Some are found much farther away and sometimes they are not found in time to prevent serious injury or worse.
If an elderly loved one suffers from Alzheimer's or dementia, telling him or her to stay in place is not going to work. Ultimately, the solution is to never leave them alone. Because they are still physically able to function, closing the door behind you when you leave will not work; they will simply open it and wander out.
While it can be challenging to supervise a senior around-the-clock, it does not have to be as challenging as it might seem. Friends or family members are usually happy to help, particularly if you need to step out for a short time or to take a break.
In addition to close supervision, technology can greatly assist in keeping track of elderly Alzheimer's and dementia sufferers. By putting a tracking device on an elderly person, you can strengthen your ability to find them quickly in case they escape. Many devices are small and unobtrusive and may be worn as a watch or other accessory.
Ultimately, if wandering becomes too difficult to overcome, prudence may dictate considering a long-term care facility for the senior person. While this may feel at first as a betrayal or sign that you cannot manage the duties of a caregiver, that is not a correct conclusion. Being a full-time caregiver is challenging and it is simply not feasible to monitor someone who is healthy and mobile but unaware of the surroundings because of Alzheimer's or dementia.
Many long-term care facilities devote a special wing to providing care for Alzheimer's and dementia sufferers. They are secure, well-staffed and generally succeed in keeping the residents safe. Rather than it being a betrayal to place an elderly loved one in these facilities, it is reasonable to conclude that it is being done in their own best interests.
Whether you elect to keep your elderly loved one at home with you or not, there are things to watch for that serve as alerts to the possibility of oncoming Alzheimer's or dementia. The warning signs that indicate approaching trouble can include:
By being aware of these and looking for their occurrence and other symptoms, can better prepare you to handle this challenging part of an elderly loved one's life.
Logsdon, Rebecca G., et al. "Wandering: a significant problem among community-residing individuals with Alzheimer's disease." The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 53.5 (1998): P294-P299.
Rolland, Yves, et al. "A SPECT study of wandering behavior in Alzheimer's disease." International journal of geriatric psychiatry 20.9 (2005): 816-820.
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