Dementia and wandering: Who is at risk?

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Every 66 seconds someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with dementia. Six people out of every 10 of those diagnosed are at risk for wandering.

At some point during the progression of their disease they will not remember or recognize their name, address, or a familiar place.

They will become disoriented or confused and wander away from the places and things that were familiar to them just hours before.

There are many ways to recognize who is at risk. As a family member, watch the person with dementia to see if he or she is restless, makes repetitive movements or paces.

Your loved one might have difficulty finding a familiar place like the bathroom or bedroom or might ask the whereabouts of current or past friends or family.

All these are signals that this person might wander.

As neighbors, you might watch this person rake the yard for hours but never make a pile. He or she might take a daily walk.

Attempting chores or hobbies but never actually getting anything done, or a walk that places the person away from a secure environment are both risk factors for wandering.

To prevent wandering in a loved one with dementia, the strategies must start at home. Having a daily plan and identifying the most likely times of the day when wandering might occur is a beginning.

Making sure basic needs such as hunger are met is also important. These reduce agitation.

Camouflaging doors and locks and hiding the car keys can reduce the number of times the person with dementia might think of leaving.

Always provide supervision. Do not leave your loved one at home alone or in the car alone for even a few minutes.

Sometimes, despite all our efforts, a loved one with dementia will wander. It is important to have a plan already in place.

Begin searching right away and start where the person was last seen.

Call 911 immediately and identify your loved one as a "vulnerable adult" with dementia.

Keep a recent photo and medical record on hand to give to the police.

Ask neighbors, friends and family to help.

Know your neighborhood - any water, woods, open stairwells, streets with heavy traffic.

The person might also wander to a familiar place like work or a place of worship.

Ninety-four percent of people who wander are found within a mile or so from where they disappeared.

There are programs in which you can enroll your loved one, such as Alzheimer's Association Safe Return, a nationwide identification program facilitating the return of those who wander.

With more than 29 percent of the population on Hilton Head over 65 years of age and more retirees moving to Bluffton, we have a large community at risk for dementia and therefore at risk for wandering.

We all need to be aware of how this impacts our community.

Help keep our seniors safe. For more information, visit the Alzheimer's Association website at www.alz.org.

Sally Wogsland, RN, BSN and Certified Senior Advisor, is co-owner of ComForCare Home Care. SWogsland@ComForCare .com; www.HiltonHead.ComForCare.com

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