Bursack: Alzheimer’s patient’s wandering a problemDear Carol: My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. She lives with us in our home, but there isn’t someone available during the day. So far she is doing OK, but I’m worried about the fact that she wants to go outside, and then she just takes off muttering things I don’t understand. I know wandering is a part of Alzheimer’s. What can we do? – Francie
By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM
Dear Carol: My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. She lives with us in our home, but there isn’t someone available during the day. So far she is doing OK, but I’m worried about the fact that she wants to go outside, and then she just takes off muttering things I don’t understand.
I know wandering is a part of Alzheimer’s. What can we do? – Francie
Dear Francie: You are right that wandering is a common factor with Alzheimer’s. It’s one of the most frightening changes for caregivers, especially since people with Alzheimer’s, mostly elders, can be physically frail. They are most certainly vulnerable.
The New York Times recently ran an article devoted to this topic titled, “More with dementia wander from home.” The article covers the topic of the rising numbers of people with Alzheimer’s who go missing and how police and other emergency workers are being trained to search for them.
The desire to wander can come on suddenly, and the thought process that starts the wandering can vary. The feeling that the person wants to “go home,” which generally means a childhood home no longer available, can trigger wandering. Also stress, the need to “go to work” or just a generalized need to move around could send a person wandering. The trickiest part is that caregivers will never know when that first episode of wandering will occur.
This is a case of prevention, when possible. You didn’t mention the stage of Alzheimer’s your mother has entered, but even having that information would offer no guarantee. People often go back and forth between recognized stages of the disease. If your mother is still in an early stage, she may be OK alone for a while, but you will, probably quite soon, need to see to it she has someone looking in on her frequently.
There are many alarms and tracking devices available online. You can check with the Alzheimer’s Association about options. Some of these devices could help you monitor your mother’s whereabouts by computer. This can be very helpful for a person who is still capable of living alone but could be at risk for wandering.
Eventually, in-home care or a locked memory unit in assisted living may be necessary if no one can stay at home with your mom. Again, the Alzheimer’s Association can be an enormous help to you as you track you mom’s needs.
Taking the initiative now should help you feel more at ease and could well prevent a possible tragedy later on.
Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.