Friday, May 7, 2010

What To Do With Wandering

This week a New York Times blog noted that police in Virginia are being called more often to locate and return dementia patients who wander away from home. According to the post:

Wanderers often follow fence or power lines, and tend to be drawn toward water, Virginia state rescue officials said, bound on a mission that only they — and sometimes perhaps not even they — can imagine. (A search trick: try to figure what door they exited from, then concentrate first in that direction. But don’t bother calling out the person’s name, which he or she has often forgotten.)

During last week's town hall forum for San Diego County caregivers, medical experts addressed wandering, which can prevent participation in a day care or assisted living facility. Wandering may occur when a person moves to a new home or, quite frankly, is bored.

What you can do:

--Have them carry a wallet card with simple instructions on who to call or where to go in case they get lost. (This is assuming he or she can read.)
--Enroll them in a SAFE return program, so authorities are more easily alerted.
--Have them wear a bracelet similar to a Medi-alert bracelet with contact information.
--Enroll them in an adult day care center. This is best done when they are in the early stages of dementia. Keep the first few visits brief and, as the primary caregiver, stay with them during that time.
--Make sure they get enough exercise during the day.
--Give them small tasks to keep them from becoming bored.
--Anti-mania medication may be useful.
--Substitute shoes for slippers.
--Install red octagonal signs on exit doors.
--Install home alarms or baby monitors.

Finally, the Times piece also had this advice:

Searching for them often also means learning a patient’s life story as well, including what sort of work they did, where they went to school and whether they fought in war. Because Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of dementia, works backward, destroying the most recent memories first, wanderers are often traveling in time as well as space.