Alzheimer’s in the Philippines…
One of the most common dangers for someone with Alzheimer’s is the proclivity to wander and become disoriented. Over 60% of those with dementia will wander off at some point, which is particularly stressful for caregivers and family members. The majority of their exploration is done on foot, but if a car is available, they can take off and disappear in another city. Even if the keys are hidden, install a tracking device in any vehicle that the patient may drive. They could ride a bike, a motorcycle, or even a horse!
Why some people wander and pace can have a variety of causes, just like almost everything else with Alzheimer’s. Sometimes it’s just aimless movement, or, like my husband, it’s the result of always being on the move, especially at work. It is unreasonable to expect someone to spend the entire day sitting or lying in bed. The physical need to move is not only common, but it can help keep Alzheimer’s patients independent for a longer period of time.
If a person has recently moved or is attending a new day care or respite program, they may feel disoriented and seek out ‘home.’ They may begin looking for a specific location, person, or activity, only to forget why they are going and become disoriented. If they cannot see their primary caregiver, they may seek them out, so it is always a good idea to let your loved one know you are nearby.
Dementia patients are frequently bored. Being occupied gives us all a sense of purpose. Keep the person mentally and physically active by engaging them in games or daily chores—even if they don’t do it correctly. They frequently have a lot of extra energy, so walk to the store instead of driving, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and try gardening or other vigorous activity if possible.
When we are in pain, we may walk to get away from it. Check with your doctor to see if you have undiagnosed pain, such as a urinary tract infection, or if it is a side effect of medication, though certain medications can reduce the need to pace. It could be anxiety, fear, loneliness, isolation, or a reaction to a hallucination. Talk to your loved ones about it, assuring them that you will always be there for them and keep them safe. Or they could be hungry and looking for something to eat or a restroom. Some people tend to wander at the same time every day, perhaps when they leave for work, so try to plan an activity for that time to distract them.
If they appear to be looking for something or someone from their past, inquire about it, talk to them, and respect their feelings. Examine some old photographs. Don’t dismiss such things as done and dusted. They frequently have a job or task that they feel compelled to complete, such as caring for a small child or getting to work. You can have a work area with projects, papers to shuffle, or whatever they were used to doing—as well as dolls or stuffed animals to look after.
If they have a strong need to keep moving, which many men do, don’t be afraid to hire someone to walk with your loved one if you are unable to do so yourself, even though the exercise will benefit everyone.
As the weather changes and it becomes dark early in the morning and late at night, someone with dementia becomes confused and, at 2:00 a.m., is ready to get dressed and go to work. Or they simply stand up and walk around the house. My husband would move the clothes hamper, put his shaver in his shoe, and figurines and other small items would be scattered around the house. He was extremely busy.
A completely risk-free environment is impossible to achieve. Install locks as high as possible on outside doors, gates, and windows because Alzheimer’s patients rarely look up. Sometimes having more than one lock in place is the best option. Make sure that other family members understand how to quickly open a locked door in an emergency. Matches and other dangerous items, as well as scatter rugs and exposed electric wires, can be removed.
Make sure your loved one has some form of identification in case they need to leave. A safe return program can provide you with an identification bracelet. Clothing should be labeled with your phone number and address. Keep identification cards in wallets, purses, or pockets. If you are unable to locate someone immediately, contact the local police. Have a recent photo on hand to help them identify your loved one. Don’t chastise them when they return. Reassure and love them even more because they may be scared. This stage will usually pass.