Dear Savvy Senior,
My mother, who lives with me, has Alzheimer’s disease and I worry about her wandering away. What tips can you recommend to help me protect her?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 60 percent of people who suffer from dementia wander at some point. For caregivers, this can be frightening because many of those who wander off end up confused and lost, even in their own neighborhood, and are unable to communicate who they are or where they live. But there are things you can do to guard against this and protect your loved one.
For starters, to help reduce your mom’s tendency to wander, keep her occupied and involved in familiar daily activities such as preparing dinner or folding the laundry. It’s also important to encourage daily exercise and limit daytime napping to reduce nighttime restlessness.
There are also a number of simple home modifications you can make to keep her from wandering away. Some possible solutions include: adding an extra lock on the top or bottom of the exterior doors out of the line of sight; install child-proof door knobs or levers; place a full-length mirror, or put a “STOP” or “Do Not Enter” sign on the doors you don’t want her going through; or get a signal device or motion sensor that lets you know when the door is opened. See alzstore.com for a variety of product solutions. And, be sure you hide the car keys to keep her from driving.
It’s also a good idea to alert your neighbors that your mom may wander so they can keep an eye out, and have on hand a recent picture to show around the neighborhood or to the police if she does get lost.
If you want some added protection in case she does wander off, there are a number of services you can turn to for help, like the MedicAlert + Safe Return program (medicalert.org/safereturn).
This service comes with a personalized ID bracelet that will have your mom’s medical information engraved on it, along with her membership number and the toll-free MedicAlert emergency phone number.
If she goes missing, you would call 911 and report it to the local police department who would begin a search, and then report it to MedicAlert. Or, a Good Samaritan or police officer may find her, call the MedicAlert number, to get her back home safely.
Another option that could help, depending on where you live, is a radio frequency locater service like SafetyNet and Project Lifesaver, which are offered by some local law enforcement agencies.
With these services, your mother would wear a wristband that contains a radio transmitter that emits tracking signals. If she goes missing, you would contact the local authorities who would send out rescue personnel who will use their tracking equipment to locate her. Visit safetynetbylojack.com and projectlifesaver.org to see if these services are available in your community.
There are also a number of GPS tracking devices that can help you keep tabs on your mom. With these products, she would carry or wear a small GPS tracker that would notify you or other caregivers via text message or email if she were to wander beyond a pre-established area, and would let you know exactly where to find her if she did.
To find GPS trackers, consider the PocketFinder (pocketfinder.com) or the Alzheimer’s Association Comfort Zone (alz.org/comfortzone). Or, if you have concerns that your mother wouldn’t wear a GPS device or would take it off, there’s the GPS SmartSole (gpssmartsole.com), which is an insole with an embedded GPS device.
For more wandering prevention tips and solutions, visit the Alzheimer’s Association Safety Center at alz.org/safety and This Caring Home at thiscaringhome.org.
Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.