If you (or someone you’re close to) have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, you’re probably familiar with the constant fear that the person with dementia will wander away from home. It seems as if every few months the local news carries a story about a senior man or woman who has gone missing from a senior living facility or personal residence. Often these stories end happily – but not always. How do you ensure that the one you love is safe, but not sedentary?
This recent article from US News provides some helpful information on how to keep someone with dementia physically active and safe at the same time. As the article suggests, walking is one of the healthiest things a senior (or any person, for that matter) can do – but when walking turns into wandering, the person with impaired mental capacity is at high risk from weather, traffic, hazardous and unfamiliar terrain, and strangers with evil intent. The key is to channel that need for physical exercise into activities that are physically healthy and mentally distracting.
You may be familiar with the “Silver Alert” system, patterned after the Amber Alert designed to notify motorists of missing children. The Silver Alert system was conceived about a decade ago to meet the same need for missing seniors. (You can click here if you’d like more information about how Silver Alert works.) The important thing to know, according to Silver Alert proponents, is that roughly 60% of those suffering with dementia will wander at least once, and if not found within 24 hours as many as half of those wandering seniors suffer serious injury, even death.
One of the best things you can do as someone caring for a restless dementia patient at home is to redirect them into other, safer activities. Something as simple as folding some towels, or clipping coupons out of the newspaper, can do the trick. If the urge to wander persists, experts quoted in the US News piece say it might work to disguise your door so it doesn’t look so obviously like an exit. You might consider draping the door with curtain fabric, or placing a folding screen in front of it. (We know one Seattle-area senior living residence where those suffering with milder forms of dementia are kept from exiting by the placement of offset screen panels in front of doorways, so the residents can’t easily see the doors.)
One of the best ideas from the US News article comes from a VA Medical Center in Massachusetts that recently opened up a “wandering park.” Designed specifically for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, the park gives ample, safe space for physical exercise and safe enjoyment of the outdoors. “Smooth, flat cement pathways wind around landscaped gardens with multicolored flowering,” says US News, “allowing residents to wander in a beautiful outdoor setting.” And the park is not just for dementia sufferers but also for staff and family. “Benches surround the pathways, along with picnic tables with built-in game boards, so residents and visitors can enjoy a game of checkers. A streaming water wall encourages calming interludes for residents and staff alike.”
If you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia, or if you know someone who is, we suggest this helpful article. We also echo the recommendation that caregivers seek help and advice from the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Visit www.alz.org and enter your zip code for the chapter in your area. Remember, when it comes to dealing with issues related to dementia, caregivers need to know they’re not alone.
Here at AgingOptions we want you to know that you’re not alone on your retirement planning journey. We offer a full range of services to help you. One of the best ways to discover our comprehensive approach to planning for your senior years is to attend one of our LifePlanning Seminars, offered at no cost and with no obligation whatsoever. You’ll learn valuable information about how to make sure every aspect of your retirement plan is addressed, including housing choices, medical needs, legal affairs, financial security and family communications. With a LifePlan in place, you’ll have the solid, strong retirement blueprint you need to build the retirement you’ve dreamed about.
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(originally reported at http://health.usnews.com)