According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6 in 10 people with dementia will wander at some point. Our first experiences came when Mom was still living independently; we were so bound and determined to keep her happy by allowing her to stay in her house that we narrowly escaped disaster several times.
Dementia and Wandering Woes
Fortunately Mom was blessed with wonderful neighbors who always seemed to be around at the right time. Often she would leave the house with the intention of walking to the grocery store – a 5 minute route she had walked a million times over the years. But, as her dementia worsened, sometimes even this short walk would leave her disoriented and unable to find her way home. More than once, I received calls from neighbors that had delivered her home safely.
Once settled into assisted living she wore a wander guard, but that did very little to discourage her. Twice, she managed to slip out of the building unnoticed and make her way down the long, winding drive onto the main thoroughfare. Again, we were blessed that in both cases, she was picked up by good Samaritans and returned safely. At any given point in time, the story’s ending could have gone terribly wrong. We were lucky.
If you’re concerned about wandering, the Alzheimer’s Association offers several safeguards you may want to consider. These are paid services, but for many, the peace of mind they provide far outweighs the cost.
- MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return response service. If a loved one wanders off, caregivers call a 24-hour toll-free phone number to activate a community support network that includes local chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association as well as law enforcement units. Conversely, if someone finds your loved one, they can call the toll-free number on the MedicAlert ID jewelry, and the service will immediately contact family members so that the person can be safely returned.
- Comfort Zone Check-In requires a compatible device, monthly subscription, and Internet access. Subscribers may purchase a dedicated tracking device or connect the service to an existing Sprint cell phone. Once the subscription is activated, caregivers use the Comfort Zone Check-In web application to manage devices, monitor location, and configure notifications.
- Comfort Zone is the most comprehensive option, utilizing LBM (location based mapping service) technology to monitor and report on the location of your loved one. With Comfort Zone, a locator device is worn or mounted in the car. The device uses signals from satellites and cell towers to determine location and communicates back to a web-based system that caregivers can monitor. Users choose from several levels of service including real-time location monitoring, alerts providing notification if a person leaves a predefined zone, or emergency assistance only (in the event of a wandering incident). Comfort Zone also includes enrollment in the MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program.
Small Price for Peace of Mind
As I said, we were fortunate; our wandering incidents had happy endings. Ironically after I enrolled Mom in the Safe Return program, there were no more cases of elopement. Ultimately, we found a wonderful residential family home where the logistics and staffing made it next to impossible for her to wander off, but the MedicAlert necklace added some extra insurance. Although she never needed it, the service was well worth the small cost of an annual renewal fee.
Have you tried any of these services? If so, share them with us in the comments below. We would love to hear your experience.