If you are the Michigan caregiver of a senior loved one who lives with Alzheimer’s disease, wandering is probably one of the behaviors you worry about most. Despite caregivers’ best efforts, experts from the Alzheimer’s Association report that six in ten people who have the disease will wander. Once a person begins wandering they are more likely to continue. If a loved one with dementia goes missing, every minute counts in helping them make a safe return home. Being prepared for just such an emergency can make the difference difference. One way to do that is by assembling an Alzheimer’s Wandering Kit.
Create an Alzheimer’s Wandering Kit
In the event a your loved one wanders, quickly providing emergency responders and the alert the media with the information and photos they need can make all of the difference in how safely and quickly they are located. Here is a list of what your Alzheimer’s Wandering Kit should include:
- A written description of your aging loved one. Height, weight, eye color, hair color, and any identifying marks or features like a tattoo or scar. Include at least three emergency contact people with the description and make sure you list work, home and cell phone numbers.
- A recent photo of your loved one. It is important that the picture be a good quality head shot that can be cleanly photocopied for flyers. Keep the photo updated if your loved one’s appearance changes. A few seconds of video where your loved one’s face can easily be seen will also help.
- Make sure your kit has a copy of your loved one’s complete medical file. You need their medical history, known health problems, allergies and medications they take. You should also include their physician’s name and contact information
- Create a list of places and addresses familiar to your family member. It might give authorities some kind of a starting point to begin their search. Places to include might be past homes, past employers, loved ones homes, and their church or synagogue.
- If your aging family member still drives, be sure you have a description of their car that includes the make, model and year as well as their license plate number. It will help police alert the authorities in surrounding communities to be on the lookout for their vehicle.
One final piece of advice is to have multiple copies of your Alzheimer’s Wandering Kit stored in an easily accessible location. A digital version that you can email to media and law enforcement is best.
For Michigan caregivers of an aging parent or loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most frightening behaviors is an unfortunately common one. Wandering is generally believed to be a means of attempting to communicate after language skills are largely gone.
A person living with more advanced Alzheimer’s disease may not recognize their surroundings any longer. They may be trying to find their way “home” where home is a place they lived as a child or young adult. It might be that they are hungry or thirsty or need to use the restroom and don’t know where or how to find help. Whatever the reason, wandering causes stress and concern for caregivers trying to keep them safe.
5 Tips to help Michigan caregivers decrease a loved one’s wandering
What can you do to try to decrease the odds that your aging loved one will wander? Here are a few recommendations to try:
- Keep a clear path for your loved one to safely pace indoors. That means packing up throw rugs and eliminating clutter.
- Store potential “leaving cues” out of plain sight. Items like car keys, coats, mittens, and umbrellas should be kept in a closet or cupboard. It isn’t always as convenient, but it may prevent their mind from being triggered to the fact that an exterior door is nearby.
- Installing an additional lock at the top of all exterior doors might also help. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, a person’s gaze often becomes directed down toward their feet. A lock that is located higher on the door will be out of their line of vision.
- Paint the interior side of exit doors the same color as the walls. That will make them harder to distinguish and less likely to attract attention if your loved one is seeking an exit.
- Another common strategy used in senior living communities is one that is very easy to implement at home. Consider placing STOP or DO NOT ENTER signs on the inside of exterior doors. These universal signs and symbols are recognizable to even those with advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
Prepare Ahead in Case a Senior Loved One Wanders
If the unthinkable happens and your loved one does wander away, having an emergency plan in place can minimize the time it takes to find them. Some preventative measures you can take care in case a crisis happens include:
- Always have a recent photo of them available. A digital photo that can be quickly emailed to media is even better.
- As much as you don’t want to hurt the dignity of your loved one, consider labeling their clothing with tags containing their name and your phone number.
- Don’t hesitate to call 911 as soon as you realize your loved one is missing. Every minute counts in helping them make a safe return home.
- The Alzheimer’s Association offers several GPS tracking programs you can use called, ComfortZone and Comfort Check-In. They use cellular technology to help you monitor your loved one’s location.
Are you caring for a loved one who wanders? Have we missed anything you’ve found to be of help?