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On The Move

By Jennifer Bradley, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 5)

The challenge for them is an inability to communicate where they are, who they are with, and where to go next. Many times a person with dementia may not know their friends and family by name, but only by sight or even smell. Living with a degenerative memory disease is scary. At the onset, the person knows something is different and “off.” Imagine the fear of being in a room of people who seem familiar, but you just can’t pinpoint why. It makes the person with dementia uncomfortable, so they seek a way out of the situation. Factor in loud music or congestion of people and these triggers guarantee a paranoid, very fearful person. This explains why a person who wanders is not always in search of an intentional destination, but may be expressing a sign of distress and the need to escape.

A caregiver on the hunt must consider the physical, social and geographical factors of the place from where their loved one left. If it’s from the inside of a quiet home with which they are familiar, it’s a different story. They may be bored, looking for their job or going for the mail.

As a caregiver, it’s also necessary to ensure your loved one is getting enough exercise. Just as children and adults need physical stimulation to keep their bodies healthy, so do people suffering from dementia. Exercise lessens their anxiety and sense of boredom. Socialization is also an essential component to controlling nervousness, and in turn, wandering. No one likes to be alone.

The desire to fulfill basic living needs such as eating, drinking and using a restroom are all reasons a person may wander. Photos on doors can help with direction and a successful outcome. It is the caregiver’s responsibility to ensure these needs are met; otherwise, the person under their care may take off in pursuit of a bathroom and soon become lost.

A Different Direction

There are many factors a caregiver cannot control, as hard as they may try. With this illness, brain function is changing and lessening. A caregiver can have some influence, however, by guiding their loved one in a different mental direction. 
Understanding why persons with dementia wander is the key to keeping them safe. A caregiver can pinpoint the triggers by keeping a journal of the incidents. Also, the caregiver should look for a pattern, whether it is a time of day or the location the wanderer is seeking. Once the “why” is determined, there are several methods available to slow down someone with dementia.

For the homemaker, meeting her kids at the bus, folding towels, stirring a pot, or engaging in something else that reminds her of her past daily routine can keep her busy. A caregiver can tell her that the children will be home shortly, and change the discussion topic. Distraction and redirection are vital in keeping a loved one calm and feeling in control. How a caregiver redirects is just as important as the task itself.  It must be done in a way that is supportive of the person with dementia.

The Journal of Family Practice says this: “Redirection is the most commonly misused behavioral management technique. When patients enter restricted areas, attempt to elope, or engage in problematic interpersonal exchanges, caregivers may tell them ‘You can’t do that’ and attempt to physically lead them away. Handled this way, redirection is often an antecedent to agitated or aggressive behavior.”


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