Wandering in Dementia, do’s and don’ts for family
With cognitive decline, come challenges in all abilities, whether it be physical, mental, emotional, social, financial, or even spiritual. Safety becomes a priority. People with dementia, whatever the underlying cause may be, are prone to some or all of the above challenges along with comorbidities. Memory decline is associated with stressors, burdens, now even more so with an increased working middle class in our countries and world. As more people keep their jobs to ensure their financial security amidst the rising cost of living and survival, our duty towards the elderly can sometimes loosen up leading to catastrophic events.
Wandering is not unknown to people in the world of dementia caregiving. Once such incidence brings up memories which I must share with you. An older lady had just moved in from another part of the state, her daughter had brought her in to see me as a Geriatrician, not once but a few times. The next time though she had self-driven to our office and as she left, we thought she would be able to reach her home, as she knew the route by now. However, to our surprise, she had ended up in a shopping center parking lot, parked in front of a grocery chain, and had not reached home. She was frightened and desperate. Her daughters tried to contact her but failed. They were told by us that she had left an hour ago. Soon the police came by and were finally able to find this woman in her car in the parking lot. We found her to have dementia which the family refused to accept initially but eventually did. She failed the drivers’ test and had her keys taken away. To a common man in public, she looked all hale and hearty and no one would have known she had wandered off once. Such are scenarios that play all over the world regularly, taking family, friends, health care professionals by surprise. Cognitive testing must therefore be a priority with driving tests and vision/hearing tests. A lot of dementia goes camouflaged and sometimes can lead to a death of an elderly.
We are here to support everyone, and here are do’s and don’ts for families of wandering elderly with cognitive challenges in random order:
- Get a CGA or Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment by a qualified Geriatrician.
- Understand the differences between senior living communities and care homes, for example memory care communities or memory wings in assisted living cater to people who wander secondary to cognitive challenges.
- Learn the stages of cognitive decline to find a way to help the elderly in need. For not all stages lead to wandering behaviors.
- Safety is priority, contacting the local senior services or Alzheimer’s Association to get a bracelet or necklace with elderly’s details can help find them easily.
- Using protection like wander guards and safety codes for doors in home or senior living, can prevent wandering.
- Keeping medical records updated is critical in the management of the elderly In case they wandered and need immediate medical attention.
- Informing and keeping family updated with the person’s condition is important, through smart phones or emails.
- Knowing what times the older adult is prone to wandering can help prevent, sometimes these are seen more commonly in sunset … hence called sundowning episodes. Speaking with A Geriatrician can help solve these issues.
- Preparing for the wandering is as much important as prevention, for many times incidents like these happen when no one has thought of before.
- Driving tests, vision and hearing tests are important for healthy aging irrespective of the elderly’s underlying conditions.
- People who are physically capable of wandering do even if they are in wheelchairs or using walkers. Wandering can be associated with falls and other reasons for hospitalizations.
- Dressing up appropriately is important at all times, for sometimes elderly have known to have wandered into the cold night and exposed to frost bites.
- Caregiver training is a must in senior living and at home and compliance is as much important as active participation. As it can avoid vs prevent.
- Wandering risk knows no time or age or season and awareness building is important with regular educational credits in senior living and cares.
- Wandering is not a curse, there should be no stigma for cognitive decline is not always secondary to Alzheimers and comorbidities like diabetes, heart disease amongst others can equally contribute.
- Addictions must be checked for by health professionals including underlying comorbid psychological issues. Alcoholism, drug intake or even gambling or psychosis can force an elderly to try to desperately leave a home or senior living in search of satisfying the craving.
- Wanderers most often do not know they have wandered, so blaming an elderly with cognitive challenges does not solve the problem. Instead redirecting with humanity is the only right way.
- Wandering does cost finances, so do cognitive challenges. Families must be prepared to handle this if they are unable to move their elderly into a memory care unit.
- Wandering is a burden to the society, as it takes away time and can cause intense stress to family, community, elderly.
- Dementia and wandering are not synonymous and most people with cognitive decline may never attempt to wander off.
Cognitive topics are always difficult to discuss. It is the only way we can help our beloved elderly and their families. While there are many ways to help the elderly, there are also situations where we have faltered and caused more harm. Asking for help is important and we wrote this blog to bring about some awareness, inspire our caring families and their elderly. We hope to share more, thank you much for reading our blogs and inspiring us to work with the elderly in many ways. Until next time, we wish everyone a safe, mihygge journey!