Senior citizens are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, and many are healthy, vivacious individuals. However, it is estimated that 16 million elderly people in this country have Alzheimer’s disease, a debilitating condition marked by memory loss, confusion and trouble communicating.
Common to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, plus other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, is the propensity for the elderly to wander. Wandering can help relieve anxiety and restlessness and may serve as exercise when the individual can wander in a safe, contained area. However, too often, confused elderly wander away from home, caregiving centers, or may leave their beds at night.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about half of those who wander and are not found within 24 hours may suffer serious injury or even death. These statistics have led individuals to find ways to safeguard elderly loved ones who tend to wander. Here are some ideas to consider.
1. Assess home security and make changes to ensure exit is difficult for seniors. Use doorknob covers that make it difficult to turn the knob. Place locks and latches on windows. Install a security system or electronic chimes on doors.
2. Clarify rooms of the home. To avoid confusion, put pictures on the doors to rooms, such as a toilet on a bathroom door and a bed on a bedroom door. This way the senior has a visual reminder of the purpose of each room.
3. Enroll in a program that will alert safety personnel if a loved one is lost. The Alzheimer’s Association has the nationwide Safe Return program, which provides an identification bracelet or necklace and toll-free phone number. Project Lifesaver is a program that enables primary caregivers to outfit their elderly relatives with a radio transmitter worn on the wrist. Police can usually track a missing person within minutes.
4. Petition for a “Silver Alert” program in your state. Like the Amber Alert for missing children, a Silver Alert broadcasts a media bulletin and posts notices on highway signs of a missing elderly person.
5. Alert neighbors of your loved one’s propensity to wander. The more people who can keep watchful eyes on an individual the better.
6. Keep updated pictures and a piece of clothing available. These items can help police track down your loved one more quickly.
7. Keep car keys locked away. Wandering by walking is one thing; a disoriented senior who is driving is a recipe for disaster.