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Helping those who wander stay safe

One of the worst scenarios for families caring for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease is a loved one wandering or getting lost. It causes immediate panic and concern and unfortunately happens all too often.

A recent survey conducted by Home Instead, which is part of the Home Instead Senior Care network that provides in home care, support and education to aging adults and their families, found that nearly 50 percent of family members have experienced a loved one with Alzheimer’s wandering or getting lost. Of those, nearly one in five called the police for assistance. To help families keep their loved ones safe, the Home Instead Senior Care network has launched a free tool, the Missing Senior Network, now available in northern Vermont.

“These frightening occurrences lead families to call our office and ask for help,” said Tim Lebeau of the Home Instead Senior Care office serving northern Vermont. “This [online] resource was created to help northern Vermont area families understand the risk of wandering and have a tool that empowers them to quickly take action if a loved one living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia wanders.”

The website, MissingSeniorNetwork.com, is basically a platform that enables family caregivers to alert a network of friends, family and businesses to be on the lookout for a missing senior.

The service provides a way to alert the network of a missing senior via text or email. Families can also choose to post an alert to the Home Instead Remember for Alzheimer’s Facebook page, which is connected to 270,000 followers.

The Missing Senior Network is part of Home Instead Senior Care network’s new Prevent Wandering program, which includes resources and insights into what may trigger wandering events and also suggests steps families can take to help keep their loved ones safe.

Watch out for triggers

Family caregivers should be aware of the following common triggers that may cause someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia to wander:

Delusions or hallucinations. Those living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia may misinterpret sights or sounds, causing them to feel fearful and wander to escape their environment.

Overstimulation. Individuals living with dementia can become easily upset in noisy or crowded environments, triggering them to look for an escape from the chaos.

Fatigue, especially during late afternoons and evenings. Individuals living with dementia may become tired, causing restless pacing and, eventually, wandering.

Disorientation to place and time. Individuals may not recognize they are home and seek to return to a familiar place, such as a former workplace.

Change in routine. Individuals living with dementia may become confused following a change of routine, wandering in an effort to return to a familiar place.

Many types of wandering

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, anyone living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is at risk of wandering.

“Wandering can happen at any time and not just on foot ─ someone in a car or even a wheelchair could wander,” said Monica Moreno, director of Early Stage Initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association.

“A person may want to go back to a former job he or she had, even though that job may no longer exist. Or, someone may have a personal need that must be met. There’s always a purpose and intent. It’s just a matter of identifying the triggers.”

“We understand the topic of wandering is something many families coping with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia may avoid discussing,” said Lebeau. “It’s important for families to understand the potential triggers for wandering and have a plan in place to help keep their loved ones safe.”

For additional tips and program resources, visit PreventWandering.com or contact your local Home Instead Senior Care office serving northern Vermont to learn how family caregivers can help prevent and respond to wandering. You can find an office near you by visiting homeinstead.com/state/vermont.

To access the Missing Senior Network, visit MissingSeniorNetwork.com.

—Home Instead courtesy release