Important note: Please call 911 immediately if you are reading this article because an elderly family member or friend has wandered off and cannot be found. Do not delay even 30 minutes because every second is essential to ensuring the person comes home safely. Also, if the missing person has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia, you should provide the police with that vital information.
Once a family member has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia, the entire family embarks on a new journey full of unanticipated and often difficult experiences. For example, people with dementia or other forms of progressive cognitive impairment often face the danger of wandering. Elopement is another term for a person with dementia who leaves a known safe place.
Dementia-related brain alterations lead to a higher risk of wandering. The person's thoughts often drift to a specific spot, like a former house, school, or playground that provided them with happiness or comfort in the past. In addition, they may wander if they're trying to get away from a stressful situation in public or at home. They, too, rely heavily on long-term memory, searching for locations they were familiar with 5, 10, or even 20+ years ago.
Dementia wandering can be quite dangerous because the confusion induced by the disease might result in them becoming lost and unable to find their way home. Wandering can result in a number of unfortunate outcomes, including dehydration, inability to take medication as prescribed, physical harm, or even death. Whether it's a private residence, a public place, or an assisted living/memory care community, every precaution must be taken to ensure the individual at risk of wandering does not act on that impulse to leave.
Dementia wandering can cause a lot of stress for families, and as a Senior Living Advisor and Dementia Specialist (Alisha Jones, (703) 878-7870), I know how difficult it can be to manage and prevent these incidents. Fortunately, memory care communities offer a safe living alternative that alleviates the anxiety of families who were managing wandering episodes on their own.
The Difficulties of Managing Dementia Wandering at Home
Providing home care for a person with Alzheimer's disease or another kind of dementia is a challenging task. Managing someone with a cognitive condition on a daily basis requires training, skills, as well as a great deal of patience and sensitivity.
Wandering associated with dementia adds an entirely new level of concern to an already challenging situation. It only takes a moment for a wandering episode to occur, and it can happen at any time of the day or night. If you step away from the door for even a second, someone can quietly leave the room. Constant monitoring to prevent wandering will be required over time, but it’s impossible for you to stay on high alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you are trying to manage wandering at home, you will likely need to make specific home alterations, such as installing an alarm, warning signals, and motion-detection devices at all exit points, including windows, and covering doors with neutral floor mats, wallpaper, or paint that fits the room's décor. You should also consider fitting a warning device to their bed so you are notified if they get up in the middle of the night.
Other preventive measures include storing mail/brochures, hiding car keys, and securing anything else that might prompt your loved one to think they need to leave the house. It's possible that your loved one will still wander off despite all your efforts to keep them safe. Just try to remember that they are not to blame; it is the nature of the disease.
Over time, your elderly loved one's disease may become too much for you and your family to handle. Therefore, memory care communities are the best option for ensuring their well-being and providing them with an environment that meets their needs.
How Memory Care Helps Manage Dementia Wandering
Even when under the same roof, families still cannot keep a constant eye on an elderly loved one who experiences wandering episodes. As a result, many families come to me with questions concerning memory care for their loved ones. These specialized communities have an array of safeguards and devices in place to help prevent residents from wandering and to keep them safe and accounted for at all times, including:
- Alarms at all entries/exits.
- Personal, wearable devices that warn designated staff when a resident with dementia leaves a protected area.
- Exit keypads that trigger an alarm when outside doors are opened without first entering a security code.
By no means do these precautionary measures necessitate a permanent lockdown for the local population. The memory care facility's skilled staff ensures that all residents have plenty of opportunities for companionship, including group outings, activities, and shared meals. The neighborhood as a whole is intended to promote cognitive exercise, from the choice of wall paint and tableware to the availability of nutritious fare. Many families have reported to me that their loved one's dementia symptoms have diminished since entering a memory care facility.
Based on my experience, dementia wandering is best handled in a memory care community because it unburdens family members and allows them to spend more time with their elderly loved ones in a positive, stress-free way.
Finding Assisted Living or Memory Care in Northern Virginia
Finding a community that fits an aging loved one's needs, wants, and way of life is essential when looking at assisted living or memory care options. The best chance you have of locating the ideal senior care community for your loved one is to work with Alisha Jones of Assisted Living Locators of Northern Virginia.
Many families just like yours have trusted Alisha to assist them with locating the best senior living community for their elderly loved ones. She will make sure you have all you need to choose a place where your loved one will be happy and well cared for during their golden years.
For more information or no-cost assistance with independent living, assisted living, memory care, in-home care, or other senior living options in Northern Virginia’s Prince William County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Arlington County, or Alexandria, please call our local elder care experts today at (703) 878-7870 or contact us via e-mail.