Finding a balance between independence and safety is a challenge for people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and for their caregivers. Many people with dementia become disoriented and can wander; in fact, one study shows that six out of 10 people wander during the course of the disease.
Fortunately, electronic locating devices and technology can help locate a person who wanders. Learn more from these five ways to keep a loved one who wanders safe.
Ways to Keep a Loved One Who Wanders Safe
Locating devices can provide independence to a person who wants to go out alone, but might become disoriented or lost. Devices are usually worn like a watch on a wristband, or they may be carried like cell phones.
These locating devices listed below, may help you keep a loved one who wanders safe:
1. Location Tracking Applications
These can be used with cell phones, or in some cases, on dedicated devices. One such app is the Comfort Zone Check In app from the Alzheimer’s Association. Of course, the usefulness of this app and others like it hinges on the person having their phone on them should they get lost.
2. GPS Devices
Global positioning systems use satellite signals to calculate a GPS-device user’s exact location. However, GPS typically will not work indoors, underground or underwater. Some GPS system work as a kind of electronic fence and will notify caregivers if the wearer wanders out of preset safety boundaries. Many at-home medical alert devices come with options for GPS-locating and monitoring.
3. Radio Frequency Devices
These homing devices use radio signals and can be used indoors. However, they have a relatively short range of about three miles. Project Lifesaver is one company that sells radio frequency tracking devices. Some locating devices are connected with a service that has staff that will locate the wearer. Others will depend on the caregiver to locate the wearer. Others, like the ones from Project Lifesaver, require local police services to find the person who has wandered. While many people see the use of tracking devices as a way to help increase the safety and personal freedom of the dementia patient, others may see it as a violation of their privacy. Ideally, discuss the use of a locating device early on with the person who has the diagnosis to learn their preferences.
4. Modification of the Home Environment
Items can be placed strategically around a living space so that caregivers can be alerted if a person is wandering, such as pressure-sensitive mats in front of a door that chime when someone steps on them. Similarly, door chimes can be placed on doors to make a sound when the door is opened. Some dementia patients benefit from clearly labeled doors that say “DO NOT ENTER,” as well as clearly labeled bathroom doors so that they don’t mistakenly wander through the wrong one and get lost.
5. The Safe Return Program
The Alzheimer’s Association also has a program called Safe Return. It’s a 24/7 emergency response service with a small annual fee. If a Safe Return member wanders, their caregiver calls 911 and then the Safe Return hotline. Safe Return will fax the member’s information and photo, which they keep on file, to local police. Additionally, local Alzheimer’s Association chapters will be activated to help reunite the family or caregiver with the member. People enrolled in Safe Return receive an ID bracelet with their identification and medical information to make them easy to identify should they wander and become confused.
How to Choose a Locating Device
To figure out what kind of device works best for your needs and the needs of your loved one, consider where the device will be used.
- Will it be used primarily in the home, in a care facility or outdoors?
- Is there open space, thick tree coverage or a body of water near where the wearer would be most likely to wander?
- If so, will the device you’re considering work in those areas?
- Does the locating device allow for the appropriate freedom of movement for the patient?
- Who is the preferable monitor of the location device?
- Will it be a family member, professional staff or the police?
Also consider how user friendly the device is, how reliable it is and how comfortable it will be for the person wearing it.
About the Author
Susie Slack is a content writer who believes that technology can help enhance the lives of seniors and their caregivers. She writes blogs and web content related to senior health and independent living.
Do you use a locating device to help keep a loved one who wanders safe? Share your experiences and thoughts on locating devices with us in the comments below.