Prevent Dangerous Wandering: 5 Tips for Persons With Severe Dementia and Their Caregivers

Prevent Dangerous Wandering: 5 Tips for Persons With Severe Dementia and Their Caregivers
Memory Care Safety

To the exhausted family members and caregivers for individuals suffering from severe neurocognitive disorder (aka dementia), your efforts to keep your loved ones at home as long as possible should be heavily applauded. 

No one, but other caregivers in your circumstances, understands the physical, social, and emotional hardship that comes with looking after someone who requires complete and total assistance. 

With that being said, experienced caregivers who have seen the progression of dementia are fully aware that there is no way to completely prevent unsafe choices. 

A common example in cases of dementia includes “wandering”. 

Individuals with moderate to severe dementia have a tendency of demonstrating hazardous activity because they don’t realize what they are doing. 

Examples include leaving the house unsupervised, walking on rough terrain without a walker or a cane, getting out bed by themselves when they require physical help, transferring in and out of their wheelchair without putting the brakes on, scaling stairways without help, overdosing on or forgetting medication, and fiddling with electrical appliances and sharp kitchen objects to name a few. 

It is impossible for caregivers to keep them from doing everything or wandering off.  Here are some ways to prevent “dangerous” wandering in order to keep the individual safe while anticipating regular movement:

  1. Lay out fall mats: Fall mats are designed to cushion a fall in the event that someone is unsafely attempting to get out of bed by themselves.  Note, improper placement of the mat could be just an additional fall hazard for the individual to trip over.  Consult with a specialist about when and where to place a fall mat if you think one is necessary.
  • Install fall alarms:  There are multiple types of fall alarms that can be purchased online and placed where the person is most likely to transfer on their own: wheelchair, couch, bed, etc.  The pad, which detects movement, is placed under the individual so that when they stand up the alarm alerts caregivers that they are on the move.  That way, caregivers can rush to their assist to prevent loss of balance or full-fledged falls.  For persons with severe dementia, devices like cellphones or Life Alerts are typically useless because they lack the initiation to alert help when they are in danger.
  • Keep ambulation devices within reach: Some caregivers are under the assumption that if they remove wheelchairs, canes, and walkers from reaching distance, this will prevent their loved one from moving around the house on their own.  This is actually not the case, and the individual’s chances of falling increase in attempt to retrieve the items independently or to walk without assistive devices.
  • Install night lights: There is no way around it: persons with dementia who are capable of walking will make nightly visits to the bathroom and often forget to turn on the lights in the trip sequence.  Consider placing night-lights, motion-detector lights, and canes with LED lights to make their path more visible.
  • Perform routine lock-up: Before retiring to bed or leaving the individual alone (if it is safe to do so), conduct a daily lock-up.  Check all doors leading outside, doors leading to stairways, locks on medicine cabinets, etc.  If the individual has a habit of exploring the kitchen, unplug all electrical and gas appliances and place all sharp objects out of reach.  Consider placing locks and latches on kitchen cabinets, the oven, and the microwave if necessary. 

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