Wandering: A Major Problem in People With Alzheimer’s Disease

Image for elderly GPS article]]>Alzheimer’s disease]]> is a debilitating disorder that robs victims of their memory, and cognitive abilities. As it progresses, people with Alzheimer’s may become increasingly disoriented to time and place. As a result, wandering is a dangerous problem for many Alzheimer’s sufferers (and those who take care of them). Wandering is a potentially life-threatening and frightening behavior. Memory loss, sleep disturbance, and erosion of language may contribute to wandering. Other factors may include restlessness, stress, and medication side effects.

What Can Be Done for Wanderers?

The US Department of Justice partnered with the National Alzheimer’s Association to create Safe Return. This is an identification program that unites Alzheimer’s disease wanderers with their loved ones. For a fee, families can register a patient with Alzheimer’s. The patient’s name, photo, identifying characteristics, and emergency contacts are placed in a database. The patients wear an accessory—a pin, necklace, or bracelet—indicating that they are memory impaired. Then, if the patient is found wandering, a call can be placed to the 24-hour toll-free hotline listed on the Safe Return accessory. Local law enforcement agencies can then use this information to return the wanderers to their homes.

Preventing Wandering

Wandering is a serious problem for Alzheimer’s patients and their caretakers. There are a few simple measures that caretakers can follow, however, to help prevent wandering:

  • Conceal or camouflage doors.
  • Install locks, alarm systems, and wandering monitoring devices.
  • Label doors to explain the purpose of each room and to discourage exit/entry. Use warning signs or symbols that say "Do Not Enter" or "No!"
  • Try to identify when the patient is likely to wander and distract him or her with another activity at that time.
  • Encourage activity that will relieve the patient’s anxiety.
  • Reassure the patient that he or she is in the right place.