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Wandering & Safety Concerns for Persons with Dementia During Critical Times – Issue #6 of 10

COVID-19 resource for caregivers

Issue #6 of 10

The James L. West Center for Dementia Care has launched a Tool Kit for lay and professional caregivers who are providing support to persons with dementia during this critical time. To receive ongoing information, contact caregiver@jameslwest.org.

Many safety concerns arise as persons with dementia progress through their disease. Brain changes from dementia cause individuals to become less aware of potential risks around them and become less aware of their abilities. Caregivers need to be aware of risky behaviors and general safety concerns so they can help ensure their loved one’s safety and wellbeing.

Everyone living with dementia is at risk for wandering and getting lost. Individuals with dementia can wander at any time for a variety of reasons including; boredom or restlessness, sensory overload in the environment, or trying to meet former obligations like going to work or picking up the kids.
Prevention Tips:

  • Label doors and other important spaces. To help those with dementia navigate the environment label doors with pictures to the bathroom, office, bedroom, etc. If there is a certain room or door you don’t want them to go through label it with a stop sign.
    • If you are concerned your loved one may leave the home without you knowing, consider a home security system. There are a wide variety of doorknob covers and alarms which can be found on Amazon or at your local
      hardware store.       
    • Additionally, new technology is available and being utilized for tracking the person with dementia, should they leave the home alone. More information about this technology can be found here https://www.alzheimers.net/8-8-14-location-devices-dementia/      
  •    Make sure the environment is relaxing and familiar. Stimulation from noise, lighting, temperature, etc., can be too much for someone with dementia and can cause them to want to escape. Notice if they are disoriented or seem to be over stimulated, anxious or uncomfortable. These are cues that they might leave to find a more comfortable or familiar setting.
  •    Get plenty of physical activity. Whether it is a walk through the neighborhood or doing chair exercises your loved one probably has energy to burn. The benefits of physical activity are numerous for our bodies, minds and spirit, and can help us keep a regular sleep-wake cycle. Wandering is encouraged for people with dementia as long as they are safe.
  • Have a plan! We can do everything right and still our loved one might wander away. The Alzheimer’s Association and Medic Alert offers 24/7 Wandering Support for a Safe Return program. Enrolling your loved one and yourself in this emergency response service not only gives you a plan of action but also some peace of mind. Learn more and sign up here.

Other Safety Concerns for People Living with Dementia

The 5 senses change for persons with dementia. As a normal part of aging our senses diminish some, but because of the brain changes happening in dementia there are changes to how they are interpreting the world around them. For example, one might not recognize the milk is sour, or the temperature of the food is too hot. Or they might put dirty dishes back in the cabinet not recognizing nor remembering they are not clean.

Having an understanding how persons are interpreting the world can help caregivers safely set up the environment while keeping their loved ones as independent as possible. Modifying the home to with safety features like grab bars and removing clutter to ensure safe walkway is important to prevent falls. A few other things to consider are:

  •    Removing or locking up things that can be dangerous like; medications, cleaning supplies, toothpastes, perfumes or lotions that can be ingested.
  •    Install electrical outlet covers and adjust the hot water temperature from the water heater.
  •    Add brightly colored tape to the first couple of steps to help the individual see the change of depth.
  •    Make sure there is plenty of lighting throughout the house. Shadow’s and glares can cause distorted views and uneasy feelings.
  •    Busy patterns on furniture and walls can be disorienting and they may “see” something that is not there. An example is small floral prints can be confused as little bugs.
  •    Have extra sets of keys outside of the home that are easily accessible in case you get locked out.

The West Center presents this information with the support of the following organizations: Dementia Friendly Fort Worth – Alzheimer’s Association – Tarrant Churches Together – United Way/Area Agency on Aging