More than 60 percent of people with dementia will wander from their homes, according to the Alzheimer's Association. But caregivers can help prevent that by following some basic advice.
- Learn what to expect from dementia. Wandering tends to occur in the mid-stages of the disease, when people start forgetting names of loved ones, forget recent events and confuse day and night.
- Know the warning signs. These include talking about needing to go someplace, acting restless by pacing or performing repetitive movements, or getting lost in their own home (such as not being able to find the bathroom).
- Limit stress. Establish a daily routine that includes involving your loved one in familiar activities such as preparing dinner or folding laundry. Avoid exposure to unfamiliar people or places.
- Tire them out. Limit daytime napping and encourage daily exercise to reduce nighttime restlessness.
- Remove visual cues. Cover up doorknobs and hide house keys and coats. A mirror placed near the doorway, so that the patient sees his reflection before venturing out, has been shown to stop a person from leaving.
- Don't keep dementia a secret. Tell family, friends and neighbors that your loved one is ill so they can intervene if they see him or her outside alone.
- Educate your community. People often think they're being a Good Samaritan by giving an elderly person directions or change to get on the bus. But that help can lead to harm. Inform people that if you think an older person is confused, it's better to call 911 than let them come to harm.
Cynthia Ramnarace writes about health and families. She lives in Rockaway Beach, N.Y.