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A Risk of Alzheimer’s: How To Prevent Wandering

January 19th, 2011 | Posted in Long-Term Care
Although not everyone who has a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis requires 24-hour supervision or a secured memory care community, they are often a potential wander risk. The term wandering can sometimes be used for two different but associated behaviors. Regardless of these descriptions (see below), wandering can pose great risks to your patient. Specific strategies can reduce those risks.
For some, wandering can simply be the persistent walking or pacing in their care setting. Others, however, refer to the situation where a person has wandered away from their care setting, unaware of where they were going, how to get there, and how to get back – resulting in getting lost.
Anyone who is a risk for wandering must be assessed and cared for properly. The dire consequences of a person with dementia wandering away from their care setting and getting lost can range anywhere from getting injured, hospitalized, or even death before they are found. Due to the seriousness of this behavior, it is critical that prevention take place. According to The American Journal of Nursing, three critical elements of prevention and action are accurate assessment of individuals who are at risk, provision of intense supervision, and implementation of a search plan if a person is missing from their care setting. Some questions healthcare advocates should ask themselves and the patient’s family members are:
  • Is your relative having difficulty doing tasks that are routine, such as preparing meals, managing medications, or keeping a schedule?
  • Is your relative making errors in judgment, such as leaving the stove on, not wearing the proper clothing outside, or going to bed too early?
  • Does your relative become lost in familiar places?
If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, the patient may be at risk for wandering, and you should consult their primary physician regarding recommendations.
Solutions to the Wandering Problem
There are different types of care options for a person who is a wander risk. Often, the person requires 24-hour supervision, either utilizing round-the-clock “sitters” or home health caregivers in the home, or finding a nursing facility that specializes in dementia and Alzheimer’s that is secured. Depending on the person’s symptoms, behaviors, and physical ability, an assisted living or skilled nursing facility with secured units may be most appropriate.
Consulting with a physician and researching both types of facilities in your area to find out what type of care they can provide for people with dementia and how they ensure there is no risk of your patient wandering away is crucial in determining the best setting. Often, memory care facilities are secured, where the residents must have the supervision of staff or family to exit the building. These types of communities create the safest environment for their residents, while also catering to the needs of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia through special programs, designs, and typically fewer residents.
Though there are a lot of risks and things to consider when finding the proper care for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s, there are options available. Learning about what is available in your community as early as possible ensures you can make the best decision for your patient when the time comes.

Lisa Baker is the Administrator of Spring Hill Assisted Living in Neosho, Mo. She has 22 years experience in long-term care, and has been a licensed nurse since 1993 covering Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Baker is also a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator for the state of Missouri. In addition to being active on several committees Baker also serves as the Membership Coordinator for the Neosho chapter of BNI. She has become the top referral source to the community regarding long-term care placement and assisting seniors to gather information for all care level needs.