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What special challenges does dementia pose?

One of the greatest concerns caregivers who tend to people with cognitive problems have is how to prevent wandering.

Wandering is a risk associated with many conditions, such as autism, Down syndrome, and dementia. Dementia, which can result from Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, head injuries, and Parkinson’s disease, has become more prevalent in recent years, and will continue to be problematic as our society ages.

The number of wanderers is expected to rise as baby boomers age and face a diagnosis of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in eight people age 65 and older (and nearly 1 in 2 people over age 85) have Alzheimer’s disease. The increase in individuals living with dementia poses special challenges to caregivers and society.

According to a report conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association, the average time it takes to find someone missing with dementia is about nine hours. The search and rescue missions are also expensive undertakings, costing taxpayers in most situations approximately $1,500 per hour. Worst of all, after 24 hours a missing person with dementia only has a 50% chance of being found alive.

Regardless of a caregiver’s best efforts, it is nearly impossible to watch another person all day every day, but there are ways to moderate the possibility of wandering and increase the safety of your loved one. Here are some tips that may help:

  1. Secure your home. You may want to install motion detectors or hang bells on the doorknobs to alert you when someone opens an outer door.
  2. Make sure your loved one always carries ID. This will not prevent wandering, but may help someone identify your loved one.
  3. When someone with dementia is missing: Begin search-and-rescue efforts immediately.
  4. Is your loved one right or left-handed? Wandering generally follows the direction of the dominant hand.
  5. Dress your loved one in bright clothing. Consider dressing your loved one in clothing that’s easy-to-see from a distance.
  6. Keep a list of places where the person may wander. This could include former homes, past jobs, places of worship or a restaurant.
  7. Know your neighbors. Introduce your loved one to neighbors, and let them know that your loved one is prone to wandering.
  8. Put up signs. Sometimes, just hanging a sign on a door that says ”Stop” or ”Do Not Enter” can be enough to prevent your loved one from wandering.
  9. Tracking Device. Consider having your loved one carry or wear an electronic tracking GPS device that helps manage location.
  10. Call 911. If your loved one does wander, search the immediate area for only 15 minutes before calling 911. Tell police that a person with dementia is missing.

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