Health & Fitness

Ask Nancy: Strategies to deal with a wandering Alzheimer’s patient

While Alzheimer's is a topic of intense research and the driver behind President Obama's plan to map the human brain, there is no known cure.
While Alzheimer's is a topic of intense research and the driver behind President Obama's plan to map the human brain, there is no known cure. iStock

Q. My husband is 85 and has Alzheimer's disease and I am his primary caregiver. It’s getting more difficult for me as his disease progresses but I want to continue for as long as I can, in order to preserve our money for as long as possible. My biggest issue is that I’m afraid he will get up in the middle of the night, or at a time when I’m not as alert as necessary, and wander off. Up to now I’ve been able to manage but we’re having more and more incidents and feel as though I’m running on luck. I have researched GPS tracking systems and am curious what you think of them, and other suggestions you may have.

Lorraine G., New York, New York

A. Disorientation and wandering affects nearly 60 percent of Alzheimer’s patients and their families. You’re smart to be open to using tracking systems and other strategies that will help prevent your husband from walking out of your home and give you some peace of mind.

Getting a GPS tracking system is a great idea. While you can now find GPS tracking in sneakers and on pendants and other easily removable articles, I would favor a system that's comfortable but harder to remove, such as The Lojack Personal Tracking System (www.safetynetbylojack.com), which offers 24/7 service for about $350 a year and a $99 enrollment fee. The Lojack strap fits comfortably on the wrist or ankle.

I also recommend looking into the Alzheimer’s Association’s “Safe Return” program, a 24/7 nationwide emergency response service (http://www.alz.org/care/dementia-medic-alert-safe-return.asp). When you enroll in the program you provide personal information including local police department telephone numbers, sheriff’s office and other key emergency numbers along with a recent photograph. This service provides a bracelet or necklace with an ID number that is worn by the patient. If the patient wanders, the caregiver would call the 800 number, activating a local support network to locate the individual and reunite them with their family. This service costs about $60 a year.

The Alzheimer’s Association also offers a program called “Comfort Zone Check-in” (www.comfortzonecheckin.com), which allows families to monitor a dementia patient’s whereabouts remotely using Web-based location services.

In addition to these monitoring services and GPS-based products, there are other options to consider. For example, pressure mats can be placed next to the bed and/or in front of the door. When someone steps on the mats chimes will be activated. These can be purchased on Amazon. (http://www.amazon.com/B7-HIDDEN-PRESSURE-ACTIVATED-ALARM-INTRUDER/dp/B0045U4MNC.) Other devices include door bell chimes that are activated when the door is opened, special door locks, and even motion detectors with remote alarms.

The National Institutes of Health provides some important tips to prevent wandering and to prevent the person from being lost if the prevention strategies fail:

• Notify your local police and neighbors that your husband has Alzheimer’s and to notify you immediately if anyone sees him out by himself.

• Put identification labels in his clothing.

• Keep a recent photograph (or video) of him.

• Place large STOP, DO NOT ENTER or CLOSED signs on doors.

• Keep shoes, keys, suitcases and other “departure” articles out of sight.

To learn more, view Alzheimer’s Caregiving Tips on Wandering on the NIH website (http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/wandering).

The Mayo Clinic also offers tips at www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/caregivers/in-depth/alzheimers/art-20046222.

Nancy Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of SeniorityMatters.com, a caregiver advisory and referral service for South Florida seniors and their families. You can contact her at nancy@senioritymatters.com.

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