The Lehigh County area has many wonderful attractions and places to visit for people of all ages. However, any place can be threatening for a person with dementia. One significant danger for a person with dementia is the possibility of him or her wandering off without notice and often without proper clothing, medicine, or other essentials. An estimated 60% of people with dementia will wander off at some point. A person with Alzheimer’s may not remember his or her name or address and can become disoriented and not know where they are or where they are going.

Because we can never know who or when this might happen, it is good to take preventive measures now, as well as to be prepared if our loved one should disappear out the door. Here are some suggestions from Alzheimer’s and Dementia Weekly and Alzheimer’s Association.

Are there warning signs of a potential for wandering?

Take note of the following signs that may indicate a tendency to wander:

  • The person arrives later than usual after a walk or drive.
  • He or she forgets how to get to familiar places.
  • They talk about returning to old routines, like going to work.
  • The person wants to "go home," even when at home.
  • He or she is restless, paces, or makes repetitive movements.
  • They have difficulty locating familiar places, even in the home, like the bathroom, bedroom, or dining room.
  • They may ask about the whereabouts or status of past friends and family.
  • The person seems to be doing a hobby or chore, but gets nothing done (e.g., moves around pots and dirt without actually planting anything).
  • They get nervous or anxious in crowded areas, such as shopping malls, grocery stores, and restaurants.
  • He or she may forget to finish simple chores and leave pots cooking on the stove or forget something is in the oven or that food was left on the counter.

Are there ways to prevent wandering?

Here are some tips to help prevent the person with Alzheimer’s from wandering away from home:

  1. Create daily routines, plans, and activities for structure. If possible, plan these activities for times when wandering seems most likely.
  2. Make door locks as “invisible” and inaccessible as possible, out of the direct line of sight.
  3. Use loosely fitting doorknob covers so that the cover turns instead of the actual knob.
  4. Place STOP, DO NOT ENTER, or CLOSED signs on doors.
  5. Divert the attention of the person away from using the door by placing small scenic posters on the door; placing removable gates, curtains, or brightly colored streamers across the door; or wallpapering the door to match adjoining walls.
  6. Install safety devices found in hardware stores to limit how much windows can be opened.
  7. Install a device that signals when a door or window is opened.
  8. Secure the yard with fencing and a locked gate.
  9. Keep shoes, keys, suitcases, coats, hats, and other signs of departure out of sight.
  10. Do not leave a person with Alzheimer’s unsupervised in new or different surroundings. Never lock him or her alone in the house or car.

How can I prepare for a wandering episode?

The following are some readiness tips in case a dementia sufferer should wander off:

  1. Make sure the person carries some kind of ID or wears a medical bracelet. If the person gets lost and can’t communicate clearly, an ID will let others know about his or her illness. It also shows where the person lives.
  2. Have a handy list of contacts to call for help. Let neighbors and the local police know that the person with Alzheimer’s tends to wander. Ask them to alert you immediately if the person is seen alone and on the move.
  3. Place labels in garments to aid in identification.
  4. Keep an article of the person’s worn, unwashed clothing in a plastic bag to aid in finding him or her with the use of dogs.
  5. Keep a recent photograph or video recording of the person to help police if he or she becomes lost.
  6. Familiarize yourself with dangerous locations near the home, like high-traffic areas, ditches, waterways, bus and train terminals, etc. Also, think of places familiar to the wanderer, like past workplaces, homes, clubs, etc.

South Mountain Memory Care focuses on high-quality, personalized care. The brand new building is a stand-alone memory care community, meaning that the entire building, staff, and programs are designed to serve residents with cognitive issues. To ensure person-centered care and attention, we have accommodations for up to 28 residents. The building is divided into two neighborhoods (wings), each offering 10 private suites and 2 semi-private suites. South Mountain Memory Care is located in the Allentown suburb of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, and it is easily accessible from the Lehigh Valley, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. For more information, go to southmountainmemorycare.com/.

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