The recent tragic drowning death of Linda Adkins at Lake Jackson clearly illustrates the dangers associated with wandering for those with dementia. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Ms. Adkins.
Studies indicate that six in 10 people with Alzheimer’s or another dementia will leave their home and lose their sense of place at some point during the disease. Although common, these situations can be dangerous, even life-threatening. Those with dementia may become lost or disoriented even in their own neighborhood, and may not remember their address, phone number or name.
Such incidents pose an increased threat during winter and summer months, due to extreme temperatures. If not found within the first 24 hours, those with dementia are at great risk from exposure or lack of medical care. Even in the early stages of the disease, a person can become confused for a period of time.
While there is no perfect way to prevent such incidents, there are strategies to reduce the risk.
* Reassure the person if he or she feels lost, abandoned or disoriented. If someone with dementia wants to leave, use communication focused on validation. Refrain from correcting the person. For example, “We are staying here tonight. I will be with you. We can go out in the morning after a good night’s rest.”
* Avoid busy places that are confusing and may cause disorientation. This could be shopping malls, grocery stores, busy streets.
* Place locks out of the line of sight. Install either high or low and consider placing slide bolts at the top or bottom.
* Use devices that signal when a door or window is opened. This can be as simple as a bell or small alarm placed above a door or as sophisticated as an electronic home alarm.
* Provide supervision. Do not leave someone with dementia alone in new or changed surroundings. Never lock a person in a home alone or leave him or her in a car alone.
* Keep car keys out of sight. If the person is no longer driving, remove car keys — a person with dementia may not just leave by foot. If he or she is still able to drive, consider using a GPS device.
* Constantly assess driving ability. If the individual returns home late from appointments or errands, it is quite possible they are having difficulty finding their way home. When riding with the individual, observe their ability to find their way around familiar environments, recognize street signs, recognize stop signs, traffic lights etc.
* Enroll the person in an identification/tracking system such as MedicAlert® + Safe Return®, a national program designed to identify and locate those with memory impairment who become lost.
If the person leaves home alone, respond to the incident as an emergency. Under these circumstances, individuals with dementia are at a special risk, so time is of the essence. We at the Alzheimer’s Association can provide additional safety tips every caregiver needs, as well as education on dozens of topics to assist those with dementia.
We provide many FREE program and services to local families dealing with dementia. Below is a list of our local programs and services.
* Family Care Consultation — A Licensed Social Worker or Nurse will meet with families to assist them in developing a care plan, provide education, support and referrals.
* Education — We hold monthly education programs for families and the community at The Holzer Thaler Building in Gallipolis, on the 4th Wednesday of every month, from noon-1:30 p.m. Next education is March 27th and will cover Effective Communication Strategies when dealing with folks with dementia.
* Family Support Group — This is a safe place for caregivers, family and friends of persons with dementia to receive support, information and tips on how to deal with caregiver stress. Our support group meets the 3rd Thursday of every month at our office in the Office Commons in Jackson from 1-2:30 p.m.
To learn more about how you can better protect your loved one, or to speak with one of our dementia experts, call our 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900 or local office number at (740) 578-4382. You can also visit: alz.org/cincinnati.
Melissa Dever is Program Director for the Southeastern Ohio Branch of the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Cincinnati.