You’re worried because one of your aging parents, who has Alzheimer’s disease, wanders away from home occasionally. It happens unexpectedly. One minute they’re there and the next they’re gone.
Last time, they were gone for hours before someone found them. Fortunately, they were okay, just a little disoriented. But while they were missing, you began to think of the worst that might have happened to them.
You’re not certain how to keep them safe. You don’t want to unduly limit their independence, and you certainly can’t keep watch over them 24/7. But you’re not comfortable simply hoping some guardian angel will watch over them if they do disappear again.
Risks associated with wandering
You’re right to be concerned. Sixty percent of people with dementia-related memory problems go missing at some point.
If your parent disappears, your first inclination might be to look for them yourself. The trouble is you may not find them. And each minute that passes means they could be wandering further away, making the area you have to cover that much bigger.
Here’s a shocking statistic to keep in mind: 50% of people with dementia who go missing and aren’t found within 24 hours end up seriously injured or dead.
That’s why the moment you notice your parent is missing, you need to treat it as an emergency. Call 911 immediately. Currently, 28 states in the US formally belong to the Silver Alert system, a public alert system designed specifically to aid in locating older adults with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other mental health conditions. Your local law enforcement can act quickly to issue a Silver Alert if appropriate, so calling 911 immediately is crucial to locating them.
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First responders are going to need some information from you to help them conduct a search. They’ll likely ask for a recent photo of your parent along with other identifying information.
The faster you provide this, the quicker they can start their search. That’s why having this information on hand – just in case your parent goes missing – is a good move.
Managing the risk
There are other things that you can do to reduce the risk that harm will come to your parent if they wander off. For instance, you can look for a GPS device they can wear around their wrist, their neck, or even in their shoe. You might also want to consider having them wear a medical alert ID bracelet that indicates they have dementia so anyone who encounters them understands why they’re lost.
However, if your parent’s dementia has advanced to the point where they’re increasingly disoriented to time and place and they’re more prone to wander, keeping them safe at home may prove to be very difficult. That’s when moving them to a retirement home with memory care should be considered.
What is memory care?
Memory care – also sometimes referred to as Alzheimer’s special care – is a residence where people with dementia receive support and supervision from specially-trained staff. Many residences have secure entry/exit, designed to prevent residents from wandering off the property and getting lost. Some residences focus exclusively on memory care. Others provide a mix of programs, and memory care may be provided in just one part of the building.
Of course, deciding to move your parent to memory care is a big step. There’s a lot more to consider than whether it’s a safer environment for them. You’ll also want to make sure it’s a place where they’ll have a chance to thrive.