Battling Alzheimer’s Disease and its Compatriot Wandering
By nature, I am a pretty even tempered person. Not much gets under my skin. However, my mother’s wandering really got to me. She’d gather her coat and purse, and head for the door. By the time she had taken 10-15 steps, my normally 96/54 blood pressure had skyrocketed to stroke levels and I was s-t r-e-s-s-e-d.
No matter how much I talked, explained, used logic and my persuasion skills, she remained intent on going. Sometimes, she’d slip out of the door, without my knowing, and my toddler would announce to me that grandma was going, “bye, bye.”
This leads me to the question. What do you do about the wanderer? First of all, you take a long, deep breath. Please understand that you cannot convince your loved one not to wander. What you can do is put a plan in place, so that the frustration levels of all involved don’t go through the roof. After all, YOU are the logical one. There are several probable or possible reasons for wandering, which we’ll discuss in another post.
For now, let’s put Operation Anti-Wander in place
Operation: Distraction –You logically explaining to dad why he shouldn’t leave won’t most likely won’t work. However, pulling out some old photos, asking him about his favorite hobby, getting him to tell his favorite story (again), or soliciting his help with a chore just might be enough distraction to make him forget his original plan. You might also offer a glass of water or favorite beverage or even a snack.
Operation: Let ‘em go (as long as its safe) – My mom had arthritis in her knees. I am ashamed to say that it took me months of vain explanations, lots of tears and a few (private) temper tantrums to realize that the pain would stop her faster than I ever could. One day, I said, “okay, see you later,” as she walked out of the door. She made it to the end of the driveway, rubbed her knees and turned back towards the house while we hid in the doorway watching. Whew! It worked. A word of caution, as the disease progresses and the brain functions slow down, pain may not register.
Operation: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em – As a caregiver, your days are full. If your grandmother decides that she just must go for a walk another option is to join her. You could probably use the downtime and some fresh air. Get outside and enjoy the walk with her. You can be sure that she is safe, say hello to the neighbors along the way, and see the neighborhood though the eyes of the one you for whom you are caring. It’s so easy to “discount” the perceptions of someone’s whose reality is different from yours. The walk may give you a reality check and help you to realize that there may come a day that you wish, even long to go for a walk with your loved one.
Operation: Alarm – If things get serious and safety becomes a major concern, you might have to consider a chair, door or bed alarm.
Now, given that you may have a wander on your hands, please consider the following:
Join the Medic Alert/ Safe Return Program—medical info as well as family contact information is conveniently store in one location.
Notify your neighbors—Assuming your loved one wanders from home, your neighbors are your first line of defense. Let them know that there may be potential for wandering. They can give you a call or gently escort your loved one home.
Notify local police dept—Depending on the size of your town, this might be a good idea. If someone goes missing, you will surely get the police involved, so giving them an advance call to check if they have a registry or procedure in place.
Hide a Key—You may have to run outside quickly or your loved one might lock everyone out. It’s worth it to give a key to a neighbor or hide one in a safe place.
Wandering is often a part of life for those who are battling Alzheimer’s disease. They are not doing it to annoy or stress you. Just imagine this. You get your coat, keys and list and head for the door. Someone stops you to tell you that you don’t need to go to the Dr., pick up the kids or play that round of golf. That is what it is like for the wanderer. In their minds, they have something important to do and you are hindering the process. So, put your plan in place and work your plan.Hey, I gotta run. I hear the door opening. It’s not my mom, but my 2 year old says he’s going, “bye, bye.” (but that’s another story).