According to the Alzheimer’s Association 6 out of 10 people with memory loss will wander outside of the home and become lost. If not found within 24 hours, up to half of those who wander risk serious injury or death.
Wandering is one of the most common behavioral expressions exhibited by those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. With the onset of nicer weather, it is typical see an increase in the internal need for those with memory loss to go outside, but unfortunately once there they may not remember where they are, may not be dressed appropriately and if become injured may not know how or who to call for help. Here is a video in which Azura’s Regional Director of Communications, Paula Gibson provides insights on wandering and tips for caregiver to consider.
Unfortunately, when someone with memory loss begins to wander, it can quickly lead to an unsafe situation, which is why Azura was one of the lead advocates for Wisconsin’s Silver Alert program. This special program helps to protect vulnerable seniors by sending an alert out through the Wisconsin Crime Network via email, text message, road sign, lottery computers, etc. to the public that an adult with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairment has gone missing.
Since the Silver Alert program was started in 2014 the majority of alerts involving seniors with memory loss have been found safe, but on average they have been missing for a minimum of 6 hours and are typically found at least 60 miles from their homes. Unfortunately, even with this system in place not all have been successfully found or when found have already perished.
Caregivers will often state that when a loved one begins to wander, especially outside, it leads to added frustration and fear. As a result, the primary caregiver is quickly drained from having to be on “high-alert” at all times.
At Azura Assisted Living and Memory Care we take pride in our ability to safely and successfully care for those individuals who have wandering, and other behavioral issues associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Our MOSAIC philosophy coupled with our EXCEPTIONAL training and engagement program educates our Team on ways to refocus and work with individuals who wander. Here are just a few tips for you to try too.
Enter their Wandering World: As a caregiver it is easy to become frustrated and blame your loved one for leaving the house. However, if you look at wandering as the disease trying to speak for your loved one, it may help you understand and provide you with the patience to enter into their wandering world.
For example, every afternoon your Mother begins pacing and trying to leave the house. She says that she needs to meet the kids at the bus. Our normal reaction would be to explain to Mom that her kids are grown and that she does not need to meet the bus anymore. While in some cases this may work, in others it may increase Mom’s anxiety level and as result escalate her behaviors.
Validation, Refocus and Engage: Using the simple validation technique of asking her about her children may help to refocus her to a happier memory from which another conversation can be sparked, which could result in her being refocused from the door to the kitchen and engaged in a baking or cleaning activity.
You could also bring Mom a chair so that she can sit and wait for the bus, again providing her with another activity to do while she waits. Go for a walk with her, arrange for her “kids” to call and say they will be late or find an activity for her to engage in such as listening to music or another hobby that she finds enjoyable.
In all of these examples you are entering into her world, validating her feelings and redirecting her anxiety thereby diverting her from her need to leave.
Personal History: Use your knowledge of their personal history to understand the significance of their need to wander. Where do they want to go and why? Perhaps Mom is trying to go out to her garden. Are there ways that you can help them attain this goal, without it causing them harm or you frustration? Bring Mom a pot, dirt and flowers to care for or go for stroll through a park or nursery.
No matter what your solution, if you take the time and effort to enter your loved one’s world of wandering you will have listened to them in a whole way. Sparking a communication line with them that will help all year long!
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