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The risk of wandering in Alzheimer's

Posted Jan 27 2009 3:52pm
In today’s newspaper I saw two reports of seniors freezing to death in the cold spell that has trapped much of the country.

Yesterday I was editing a caregiver course on the topic of wandering, so maybe I was especially aware of this topic.

In one report in the Chicago Tribune , the two people in the story actually died right outside their residences. One was a younger woman who slipped and fell, and, with a broken leg, was unable to make it to the door of the house where her ex-husband and sons were sitting, warm, cozy and unaware, just inside. The other was an elderly person who died on the sidewalk outside the assisted living community where he lived.

Researching the topic of seniors with Alzheimer’s or memory loss wandering away and becoming lost, it was clear to me that this is an event that happens all too often in our country.

It is an opportunity for inventors and makers of tracking devices and alarms. Sensors, monitors and all sorts of tools exist to help us keep these vulnerable people safe.

Sometimes, though, it’s like all the guards, sensors and razor-topped fences at the maximum security prison. Pretty effective for most of the residents, but never, ever, 100% guaranteed safe.

Stories like those I read today make my stomach knot up. I can’t imagine how the families must feel, or the staff who didn’t know the person was outside and missing for too long.

What is do know is that good training, for families, caregivers and managers, is one of the best wandering tools available. Knowing how to keep the person busy and engaged so he doesn’t try to get out; offering frequent walks with a companion; having a regular check-in system to keep track of people throughout the day; knowing what to do the minute you identify someone as missing – no amount of razor wire can protect you as well.

I believe in training because I’ve seen the difference it can make in outcomes of care. And I believe that, in this country, in this century, the least we can do is everything we can possibly do to prevent the tragedy of a missing loved one for just one more family.
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