What precautions can be taken to prevent wandering?

For families looking after a loved one living with dementia who wanders, what precautions can they take to prevent wandering?

Clinical Leader Susan Fulton has some suggestions.

If you are a family member and you are concerned about wandering, providing distractions and positive reassurance for them, keeping them physically busy and active (with supervision) can help.

Have a regular routine of going outside or doing errands, sometimes even taking a jacket and shoes out of the line of vision helps, some care facilities have painted their doors to look like a bookcase, or room which “hides” the door.

You can go as far as putting the locks on the outside of the doors but only do this when you can ensure their safety.

Supervision and companionship is key.

If you have a Health Care Worker providing support, make sure they document any observed changes in behaviour or patterns. Anticipate potential safety issues before they occur.

Are there any precautions to take to ensure they will be found if they do wander?

Connect with your community. Talk to the neighbors, ask them to be aware and provide family contact numbers, should wandering occur.

A medic alert bracelet can be purchased, which provides the client with a diagnosis and emergency contact number if anyone finds the family member. Organize a fan out plan with family, health care workers and/or neighbors.

Review this plan at least once yearly.

Are there any tips for people who find the wandering person? (assuming they may be quite confused and in poor health by that time?)

Approach slowly and gently. Smile and try to be as non-threatening as possible. Remember that they may be scared so provide reassurance, ask if you can help.

If the person doesn’t let you approach, try and do a visual assessment:

  • Do they have an ID bracelet on?
  • Are they hurt?
  • Are they able to tell you where they live/what street/ or provide a phone number? Sometimes you need to look for clues if they can’t recall the answer.

We had a report of a lady who was found crossing the street, looking confused and a bystander approached to chat.

The lost lady had a pile of magazines in her arms, so they began a conversation about the magazines. 

During this conversation the ‘helper’ noticed an address label on the magazine and was able to slide into the conversation that she was headed in the same direction and walked her back to the address on the magazine. (where her family was anxiously searching)

What other tips do you have?

If you do organize a search party, act quickly! Have someone stay at home and keep the phone lines as clear as you can. Notify the police ASAP with a description of clothing/height/ etc.

By Lissa Miles