Helping Caregivers protect Wandering Patients
I have met a few caregivers who are afraid to go to sleep. They worry about what might happen if no one is watching their loved one. They are afraid because their loved one wanders at night.
It happens the patients in these cases had dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
In one case, the patient awoke at night and left the house, wandering around the backyard and up the driveway to the street in about 15 minutes. Fortunately the caregiver was awakened by the family dogs in the backyard that began barking and kept barking when the patient left the backyard. The caregiver was able to locate her mother in the driveway and bring her back in the house before any harm was done.
How could she sleep when her mother might leave the house at night alone? She had no way to keep her mother from unlocking locks on the doors. She decided that she could get a lock for the gate that led from the backyard to the driveway and keep the key.
Still, her mother could still wander out of the front door instead, or she could be hurt wandering around the backyard at night. What if a neighbor or passer-by mistakenly thought that this wandering woman out late at night was a burglar? What if she managed to get to the street or even farther away?
The caregiver was at a loss as to how to solve the problem.
Experts on wandering patients advise that the caregiver in this situation should search the surrounding area. If wandering patients are not found within 15 minutes the caregiver should immediately call 911. Ask for help in locating a “vulnerable adult” who has a medical condition. The police will ask you to complete a missing persons report.
Generally, the wandering person is found within a mile and a half of the place they left.
Caregivers can do a few things to prepare for a wandering incident.
- First, make a list of people to call on for help, and keep their phone numbers available.
- Keep a current photo and medical information for the patient easily available to give to the police.
- Know the places where the person might go, and what dangers might be in your area such as busy streets,
- bodies of water, train tracks, etc.
- Ask neighbors and friends to watch for the patient walking alone and to notify you immediately if they see the patient wandering.
The Alzheimer’s Association has programs to help caregivers find the wanderer and to help them prevent wandering patients. MedicAlert®-Safe-Return is a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with Alzheimer’s or related dementia who wander or have a medical emergency.
Caregivers can call the 24-hour emergency response line (1.800.625.3780) to report the missing patient. The local law enforcement and Alzheimer Association chapters will be alerted to reunite the person who wandered and the caregiver. The person with dementia wears a pendant or a bracelet with a toll-free phone number so that when he is found, the person can be reunited with his family.
Another program of the Alzheimer’s Association is Comfort Zone, a location mapping technology that consists of a device that is worn or carried. The device approximates the person’s location and family members can use the internet or call the monitoring center to receive information.
Caregivers can set up a safe zone around the home and receive alerts when the person has entered or left the zone. They can also decide on the level and time of monitoring needed on a regular schedule. Information is available night or day to family members to help them check on the loved one.
Of course, these programs do not take the place of a caregiver who is present, attentive, and is protecting the dementia patient. However, using the medic alert pendant and the location monitoring device can calm the worries of a caregiver considerably.