Friday, January 2, 2015

Why Dementia Patients Wander

Wandering. One of the things that happens with dementia patients. I hear sometimes "My Mom won't ever wander, I am with her 24/7" 
The thing about wandering is, if your loved one hasn't done this, what you should say is "they haven't done it yet."
My thinking about wandering is the person who is wandering is trying to get somewhere. They could be trying to get away from where they are, or they could be trying to get somewhere that is familiar to them.
The bottom line is they want to feel safe. If where they are they do not feel safe, chances of them wandering increase ten fold at any given moment.
How do you keep them safe, or make sure they themselves feel safe is the key. The slightest thing can trigger a feeling of danger to a dementia patient. 
The volume on the tv being too loud, the sound of a train in the middle of the night. An alarm going off, the phone ringing, all of these are things we hear in our daily lives but when you have dementia any of these could startle you and all you want to do is get away from the noise that is scaring you.
Many times when a patient is found after they have been wandering, you will hear them say they were trying to get home.
Home to them, is not what you would think. It could be there childhood home, in which they lived long before you were even born.
Which you as their children may have had no idea where that home is even located. It could be in another entirely different city. Or they could by some miracle find the home they were looking for, and not even recognize it.
I tell people all the time, never take for granted what you loved one says or does. They could complain of hunger, and just ate. They could say they can't sleep, but just got up from a full nights sleep.
They could tell you that someone or something is following them. All of these things you know are not so, but to them, they are real as rain. And if you do not do something to ease their fear, they will do what they can to get out of where they are to a safe place.
Remember, if your loved one hasn't ever wandered, you need to think, "they haven't ever wandered yet".
In my EMS and Law Enforcement career, I have seem numerous patients just walk out of a facility that was deemed secure. Dementia patients who want to get away from where they are, they get this in their head and that is the only thing that matters to them.
They spend their entire day and night wanting to get out from wherever they are. Be it their own home or a facility like I said.
And chances are, they will get out. I have heard of families putting locks on the doors to the outside to keep their loved one in. This in itself is dangerous.
If God forbid there be a fire, and in the chaos you yourself or incapacitated by smoke inhalation or whatever, there is no way they could get out of the house on their own.
I'm not a big fan of locking anyone in a house. I do recommend alarms. You can buy alarms for when they get out of bed, when they open certain doors in the house, or even every door.
You can purchase motion detectors so if there is movement in the house in the middle of the night, you the caregiver will be alerted.
But like I said, every facility I have been in for dementia patients has security of some sort. Most have locked doors that take a code to enter or leave.
All the other exits have alarms on them, yet patients get out. They do because of one reason. Human error. Someone left a door ajar, or someone didn't arm a door with the proper code.
Or someone for whatever reason just wasn't paying attention. As the caregiver you are required to watch your loved one 24/7. They only need a moment to be out of your eyesight and be gone.
Every have your child get away from you in an amusement park setting, if just for a moment? The sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach? Well, that is what it is like when someone you love wanders off.
And hopefully if they do wander off, it's not the dead of winter, and they don't have access to a vehicle.
I once located a man in his eighties who had crashed his truck through a steel gate to a private golf course about three in the morning. When I located him, he was still driving the truck around in circles.
He couldn't or didn't know how to stop it. Thankfully we got the vehicle stopped and attended to him. He was from a town over 400 miles away and had been missing for over eight hours.
To say his family was relieved was an understatement. But the man himself was in a state of shock. He knew no one, had no idea where he was, had no idea where he came from, and was visibly shaken by the whole ordeal.
It took his family five hours to get to the hospital where he was taken, and he was still in such a state he didn't recognize them when they did arrive.
This happens all the time with dementia patients. It should never happen, but it does. Have a plan, then have another. Take a picture of your loved one every morning with what they are wearing, so if by chance they do get out, you will have for the police exactly what they look like and what they are wearing instead of trying to remember.
A cell phone picture is perfect, and can be taken in a matter of seconds, but could indeed save your loved ones life.
And, if your loved one should wander, call 911 immediately. Don't waste precious time looking for them yourself. Get the authorities involved immediately.
They have the resources and can use technology and man power to search for your loved one. If you look for your loved one for thirty minutes, that is thirty minutes that they have to be out, and who knows in what direction.
Call 911 immediately. If they are found in the basement later, or just in the backyard,'s better to have the authorities looking with you then to bring them in an hour after your loved one was found missing.
Take this wandering thing seriously. It can be fatal. And it is always traumatic to the patient and the family of those who do wander...