The biggest fear for many whose parents are in the early stages of dementia is that mom or dad will wander. This can happen if they are still living at home or in the care of an elderly care facility. In the case of the latter, the staff may not be aware of the wandering, or they may not take it seriously.
Nevertheless, according to experts, six in 10 adults with some form of dementia will wander, becoming disoriented even when in familiar surroundings like their home (such as wanting to go home when they are home). They may not remember their address or become convinced that they live in a house they lived at during an earlier point in their life. Whatever the circumstances, it may be time to make changes in their care.
Tips for caregivers
While negligence can undoubtedly come into play, there are ways to lessen the chances of this:
- Daily activities: The caregiver should have a routine that will provide structure to the day.
- Recognize times when wandering is more likely: Fill that time by scheduling activities or exercise, which often reduces agitation or restlessness.
- Reassure them: Acknowledge their feelings, but assure them that they are safe and cared for. Refrain from correcting them by saying something along the lines of, “we will go home after resting here tonight.”
- Basic needs are met: Make sure they are not hungry, thirsty, tired, or have to use the bathroom.
- Avoid busy places: Avoid shopping at the mall or large stores when they are crowded.
- Supervision: The house should have monitoring systems for when doors open and don’t leave them alone in the car.
Make a plan
Loved ones need to plan for such incidences when an older adult goes missing. Keep a list of people to call for help and places the disoriented adult may go. If they are still driving, consider using a GPS device to track their movements. If they are missing for more than 15 minutes, call 911 and tell them the lost person has dementia.
This is a nightmare for those who care for their parents. It is also an unforgivable lapse if they are under the care of professionals hired to care for them. While New Mexico is a safe place to live, it is large and the climate can be unforgiving, which means that the lost adult with dementia is at risk of a severe injury.