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How to prevent people with dementia wandering

How to prevent people with dementia wandering

Medical conditions such as dementia can make the prospect of an elderly parent wandering from home and going missing a serious worry, with both health and safety concerns. Keeping safe does need to be balanced with enabling them to retain their dignity and independence as much as possible. We have created a useful checklist, 15 ways to help prevent elderly people going missing: 

Outside the home

  1. Secure the garden or outside space as well as gates/other access points.  
  2. Make the garden an interesting place to spend time – flowers, an outdoor bench or a bird feeder;
  3. When it looks like your parent is getting ready to go out, help them get ready with appropriate clothing and walk with them until you are ready to return home; you may need to distract them to head home, perhaps for a cup of tea and a biscuit.
  4. If your parent or relative goes walking alone encourage them to take ID; perhaps sew their name and phone number on a label into a jacket they usually wear or a bag they take with them;
  5. Ensure that all useful contact numbers are stored in their mobile phone. If your parent goes missing and they have their phone which is switched on, it may be possible to trace them. If your parent allows, you could put a GPS tracker on the phone;
  6. Consider a safe return programme such as Medic Alert which will provide an identification bracelet; making contact with the number on the bracelet will provide medical information as well as next of kin details.
  7. Provide neighbours and local shopkeepers with your contact telephone numbers.
  8. Consider placing coats and keys out of view to stop any impulsive walks.
  9. If your parent has recently house, show them around the area to help them feel more settled in their new surroundings
  10.  If your parent is prone to getting agitated late afternoon or evening, they may be suffering from ‘sundowning’. Before they usually start to get restless, suggest going for a walk with them to help bring a sense of calm.

Inside the home

11.   Look into assistive technology, such as door alarms, pressure mats and GPS tracking devices which could make a huge difference to alerting you should your parent go missing. These devices identify movement, such as the time they left the house, to help finding them quickly.

12.  If your parent has a carer or lives in a care home inform the carers about any walking habits which could include favourite haunts, houses they may have lived in etc;

13.  Try and encourage parents and relatives to take up hobbies or other activities to keep them busy to reduce likelihood of taking a walk;

14.  If your parent suffers from loneliness and you are unable to check in on them as often as you would like to, you may find the services of local befriending organisations useful, where someone can make a visit or call.  Neighbours and local friends could also pop in on a regular basis;

15.  If your parent gets disorientated at home consider putting signs and labels on doors to indicate where they are in the house. Black writing on yellow signs has been identified as the easiest to read and understand.

And last but not least, complete the information required for The Herbert Protocol – the system managed by the police to facilitate the speedy and safe return of elderly people who wander.

15 ways to prevent people wandering

Why there might be wandering

If you are concerned that your parent is of high risk of going missing try to identify what they are trying to achieve when they go walking, perhaps keep a diary of where they go.  While it is great for physical and mental well-being, the worry that that they could become disorientated and lost whilst out is very real.  Try to accompany your parent on their walks and establish the purpose. Possible reasons for leaving the house could include:

  • A long established routine of going for a walk is something they wish to continue
  • Going for a walk gives a sense of purpose
  • It’s a great way to use up some energy, particularly if they feel sleep is an issue
  • It may bring pain relief or certainly some distraction or relief from anxiety
  • Perhaps they have recently moved and feel uncertain about their new surroundings
  • They might be searching for something or someone from the past
  • Perhaps doing something useful they used to do such as collecting the children from school gives a sense of fulfilment
  • Confusion about the time of day
  • Confusion in the home which has meant they accidentally leave the house without meaning to whilst looking for eg the loo or the kitchen

It is a frightening prospect to imagine your parent wandering lost away from home, but there are plenty of things you can do to minimise the risk; and also practical things such as tech solutions and The Herbert Protocol that can help should it happen.

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