It’s a frightening reality for many family caregivers — your senior loved one wanders from home and you don’t know where they are or what to do.
It’s a real fear for caregivers, especially those of seniors with Alzheimer’s Disease or other dementia.
Is your senior at risk for wandering off?
Caregivers think about what options they have to keep their senior safe. They may not have needed it yet but wonder if they will in the future and want to get prepared to prevent it instead of reacting in an emergency.
It is not just from home that seniors wander but also from their senior living facilities. Senior care centers and memory care homes face this challenge daily as well.
The statistics tell us that more and more seniors are wandering off and becoming lost. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates six of ten people with dementia will wander. One source reports that over 125,000 search-and-rescue missions for Alzheimer’s patients occur every year.
Unfortunately, the statistics show us that as many as half of seniors who wander will be seriously injured or even die if not found within 24 hours.
Who Is At Risk for Wandering?
Older adults who have a tendency to wander have been estimated to wander almost 6-8 times before their safety is problematic enough for placement into a secure facility. Who are these seniors and can we predict who will wander?
Older adults with cognitive impairments are most likely to wander but others do as well, including those with development disabilities, autism and those with head injuries or stroke.
Caregivers can’t totally prevent wandering or even watch a senior loved one every minute of every day, which can mean your senior might wander off without your knowledge.
Being aware that there is risk for your senior and taking precautions so that if it happens to them could mean there is a better chance the outcome will be improved.
You can ask yourself these questions to determine if your senior loved one is at risk:
- Does your senior loved one forget where he is when walking or driving?
- Does your senior come back home later than you expect?
- Does your senior ask to go home when she is already home?
- Does your senior look for someone, call out their name, say they have to find that person?
- Does your senior seem agitated or restless, pace around the room as if in a hurry to get somewhere else?
- Is your senior mobile? (if a senior is still mobile they can wander)
- Is your senior’s ability to reason or think logically diminished? Can they still follow directions if given a map or told how to get somewhere?
- Can your senior loved one remember his own name or give his address or phone number if asked?
- Does she ask for a purse, wallet or jacket often as if she is ready to leave?
- Are they able to ask for help if they get lost? Will they recognize that they are lost?
Technology Offers Options
There continue to be innovations in technology with meaningful applications for family caregivers that we at Senior Care Corner follow so that we can help you help your senior stay safe and independent in the home they desire.
There have been many advances that could help family caregivers gain peace of mind with seniors who might wander and become lost.
- Geo fencing — a way to set an area into a monitor so that if that area is breached an alert signal will be sent to a smartphone. Caregivers can receive these alerts when their senior breaches a pre-set perimeter.
- GPS monitoring – We have seen devices that have monitors in jewelry, shoes, sole inserts or embedded in clothes that can locate someone wearing the device through GPS locator. These are helpful in nearby places as long as the senior doesn’t remove the device by taking off their shoes or bracelet. There are many of these type devices, such as MindMe, SafeLink, and MedicAlert, that will send you alerts when a person is out of range. There is a new device currently being tested that uses cell towers instead of GPS tracking, which we expect to be helpful for a senior who wanders outside of an expected locale. It would be able to find someone across the country wherever there is cell tower service. The device is the size of a credit card so could be put in a wallet, purse, backpack or on a lanyard. This particular device boasts a three year battery life and no monthly service charge.
- App alerts are available for smartphones and can tell you if the garage door goes up or the front door is opened while your senior is home without you or during the night when you are sleeping. There are systems that allow you to remotely monitor the house and property using cameras to keep an eye on things when you need an extra set of eyes.
- Project Lifesaver International uses radio transmitters, often in combination with GPS locators linked to public safety agencies, to search for missing seniors. This is a non-profit organization with locations in 38 states. Care Trak is another company that uses telemetry or radio transmissions to locate a person wearing their device. You can even use a LoJack device on your senior which can be tracked the same way as a stolen vehicle.
- There is a new device that can tell you if someone, including your senior, has fallen in water such as a backyard pool. There is a set distance the alert can travel since the Bluetooth signal comes from your wireless network meaning it would be something in close proximity not a pool a mile away. But if your senior goes outside without your knowledge such as at night and falls into your pool, it could be dangerous. They would have to be wearing a sensor which will alert if it is submerged for a specified number of seconds. There have been other pool alerts that will trigger an audio alarm when someone falls in the pool as long as the system is activated, but the technology continues to advance to smartphone alerts.
Other Options to Prevent Wandering
In addition to taking advantage of high tech solutions to give you peace of mind, there are many low tech options that you should put in place to prevent wandering.
- Some seniors just need more physical supervision. What started out as needing a little help around the house to a little assistance with daily activities is now a need for twenty four hour care to keep your senior safe. Being able to have someone, whether family members or paid caregivers, around the clock in attendance to the needs of your senior could be the only line of defense to keep them safe from wandering.
- Alert neighbors you trust in your vicinity who may be able to spot your senior loved one passing by on an unattended walk down the street. Letting trusted people know that there is a potential for wandering will help you have some assistance in case they leave the premises without your knowledge. Ask them to contact you directly if they see your senior and not try to approach them in case your senior might be scared or agitated to prevent a situation that can escalate to harm for one or both of them.
- Alert Local Authorities or Silver Alert. These agencies can keep information about your senior on file to expedite finding them in the case of emergency. You can contact them and provide the necessary information ahead of time. They may be able to help you to prepare an action plan if needed to prevent wandering in your community such as educational seminars or services to link with for your senior’s protection.
- Make a safe, secure outdoor space available during the day to give them an opportunity to go outside regularly. This can provide them with needed physical activity to tire them for bed while giving them the fresh air and freedom they may be seeking.
- Give them meaningful activities that keep them engaged and free from boredom or agitation during the day but especially at times they are most likely to wander. For seniors with Alzheimer’s disease it might be while they are sundowning in the late afternoon.
- Secure their home with new locks or a safety or chain lock high on the door out of their reach or line of vision, safety devices such as door or bed/floor pressure alarms, alerts including a bell on the door knob, or install a fence in the yard including the front to block them from leaving the property. Disguise the door with a painting, curtain or signage. Sometimes a dark mat in front of the door appears as a whole that the senior will avoid so they may stay clear of the door.
- Be sure that your senior always has identification in case they are lost so it will make returning to home easier. Keeping ID on them may require more effort, such as sewing their name in their clothes or even a temporary tattoo, in case they leave home without their ID card. For some an ID bracelet may help.
- Be aware of other root causes of wandering, such as compromised sleep routine, lack of activity during the day or illness such as infection or dehydration or even hunger. Treating the cause could help lessen the wandering risk.
Once you have identified that your senior loved one may be at risk for wandering, there are many things that family caregivers can do to help prevent their wandering.
Even a few of these interventions, in combination with a technology innovation, can help keep your senior safe and allow you some peace of mind.