Written By Eleanor Pineau
So your loved one living with dementia often leaves the house without telling you – better known as “wandering,” but this isn’t an accurate description. People generally don’t wander aimlessly. Most often, they “wander” because they are looking for someone, something, or something to do. Common causes of people “wandering” include:
- Walking was a common activity they used to do
- Pain – walking helps to soothe pain
- Looking for food because they are hungry
- Looking for the bathroom
- Looking for a friend
- The belief they need to get to work
There are soooo many reasons someone gets up to walk around. Just like you and I get up to go places and do things – we do not sit around in a chair all day.
Now the most troublesome result of walking about is when a loved one living with dementia leaves the house when you are unaware. What if they get lost? What if they get too cold or too hot? What if they fall and no one can find them? These are all questions that run through your mind when your loved one goes missing because they walked out the front door. But don’t fret, there are lots of things you can do to prevent them from leaving, and to find them if they do leave.
Firstly, sometimes people living with dementia leave the house at night because their sleep-wake cycles have been flipped. This means they are asleep during the day and awake during the night. It is important to flip this back to normal so that your loved one is asleep when you are asleep and therefore unable to watch them. Strategies to do this include:
- Exercising during the day so they are tired at night
- Taking melatonin tablets which is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter responsible for circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycles)
- Taking them to a day program so they are engaged throughout the day and can’t take naps as often or for as long
Ever heard of “Cabin Fever?” Well even though people living with dementia have short-term memory loss, they do experience cabin fever if they are in the same place for hours and days on end. So it is quite normal for your loved one to want to leave the house. Look at yourself for instance. How have you felt after staying at home for an entire day? Like you need to get out, to go and talk to someone, to go an do something? What I am getting at is that people living with dementia need to get outside their home environment frequently. If they don’t have this opportunity, they will make the opportunity and leave without your supervision. So another way to prevent your loved one from leaving the house while you are unaware is by making it a daily habit to go for walks in the park or go pick up groceries and do errands.
It is also important that you are prepared for the case when you’ve done all you can to prevent your loved one from leaving, but it happens anyways. There are a couple of things that you can do that will speed the process of finding your loved one. Firstly, you can turn the house alarm on to the “stay” feature. This will alert you when your loved one leaves the house without you knowing. That way, they won’t be able to get too far before you are able to find them. You can also get your loved one a Medic Alert bracelet or necklace so that if they are found on the street, the person who found them can identify that they have dementia and who know who to call. Further, you can purchase a GPS tracking system. They come in all shapes and sizes from watches to shoe insoles. Make sure your loved one actually likes the equipment you buy or they will just take it off and then it’ll be useless. Lastly, you can form a relationship with your local police department if your loved one is frequently leaving the house. This way, the police already know who you and your loved one are, and will devise strategies to get them home quickly and safely.