Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging, especially if they are living alone in their own home, and safety is a key consideration.  A common problem for dementia suffers is the tendency to wander away from home and become disorientated and lost. 

Here are some top safety tips for in-home carers who look after dementia sufferers who are inclined to go walk-about.

Anti-wandering tactics

Dementia can take away a person's sense of time and reality.  For example, they might wake up in the early hours, get dressed and leave the house, believing that it's actually 9 AM and time to go to work, even though they retired decades previously.  In the case of very elderly dementia sufferers, they might even try to return to places that no longer exist, but which they remember from their youth.

Locking doors

An obvious way of preventing wandering is to lock the doors, thus physically preventing the person from leaving the house.  Extra locks placed out of reach or fitting key-operated deadbolts are solutions, but these methods can cause other problems.  Dementia sufferers often don't realise that they are ill and may become confused and angry when they find that they can't get out.  Remember too that if someone is in the house alone, they won't be able to get out easily in the event of a fire.

Exit alarms

If you are a live-in home carer, you could install alarms on all exterior doors so that you'll be warned if they go out.  Remember exit points such as patio windows and garden gates will also need to be fitted with suitable alarms and wired-up so that they can be clearly heard from inside the house.

Identification

An essential item is an identity tag in the form of a pendant or bracelet that the person wears at all times.  This tag should bear their name and address, together with your telephone number, and the words, Memory Impaired.

On trips out, always make sure that your charge carries a wallet or handbag containing a card bearing their identification details and your telephone number, just in case they wander away from you and become lost.

Warn neighbours and the local police

It's a good strategy to notify the person's neighbours and also officers at the local police station of the person's habit of wandering.  Make sure that you give them a telephone number that they can reach you on at any time in case of emergencies.  The police may also find a recent photograph of the person useful, so that they can be quickly identified if they are found wandering.

Exercise and mental stimulation

If the person is inclined to go walk-about at night, it could be helpful to make sure that they have lots of exercise and are kept busy during the day.  Sometimes, going for a brisk country walk or spending an hour or so just window shopping in a busy town can be all it takes to ensure an unbroken night's sleep for a dementia sufferer.

If the person is not very mobile or doesn't like going outside, try spending time playing board games or cards with them instead.

Modes of transport

Even though the person may not have driven a car for years, never leave your car keys unattended where the person might pick them up.  Remember that in a dementia sufferer's reality, they might drive every day, even though they've actually not sat behind the wheel for decades.

If the person used to be a keen cyclist, there's no reason why they can't still enjoy the pursuit when accompanied, but keep bicycles locked away and out of sight when you're not around.  This helps to prevent the person heading off for a moonlight cycle ride that could end in an accident.

In conclusion

One of the most worrying aspects of dementia is a sufferer's tendency to go wandering.  Use the top tips above to help keep your charge safe and ensure that they can be quickly reunited with you in the event that they do go walk-about.

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