Song to set the theme: “The Wanderer" is a song written by Ernie Maresca and originally recorded by Dion. The song, with a 12-bar blues-base verse and an eight-bar bridge, tells the story of a travelling man and his many loves. https://youtu.be/IkoidwsLXCg
Around 7 am this morning, I was just awakening for the second time this morning. My husband Tom mentioned that he thought my dad was up. Tom had already been out to the kitchen to make the coffee and he was back in bed enjoying his first cup and looking at his phone. I heard some banging, but the air conditioning was on in my room and it sometimes makes a banging noise. I got up and got ready to go out of the room. I go to the kitchen and see the coffee is on, and see the front door is open. I go back and ask Tom if he opened the front door. He said no and hops out of bed. I go and look in Dad's room: no Dad. I quickly check all the other rooms just to make sure; no sign of dad. I quickly get out of the front door and call his name. I know he is hard-of-hearing, but it’s just natural to call out. I head directly towards the street instead of the back yard since that area presents more danger to him.
Dad was in the driveway, dressed in his black leather shoes (no socks), his boxers, and t-shirt which minus the shoes are his pajamas. He had walked past the cars and was down the incline near the garage door/garbage cans. As I approached him, I asked, “Hey Dad, what are you doing?”
He looked right at me and replied, “I'm looking for the lawnmower, can't you hear it? I need to get the lawnmower!”
I replied, “Oh, OK. Why don't you come here with me?”
He is looking around as he replies “I'm in the middle of a job. I left the lawnmower running. I have to find it!”
I reassure him and look around myself and say, “OK, I’ll help you! Come up here by me so I can help you. "
After a bit of cajoling, he came up the driveway and came to me, I took his arm like we were walking together and rubbed his arm with my other hand. For some reason, I felt like some human touch might help him get grounded and snap out of his fog.
I said, “Why don't we get a cup of coffee?”
He said “But I have to find the lawnmower; I'm not finished with the job! Do you hear the lawnmower?”
I pause to show him I’m looking around and listening, and say “No, I don’t hear the lawnmower.”
He looks at me and agrees that he doesn’t hear it anymore either. I offered coffee again, knowing that he loves coffee and maybe it would tempt him to focus on that instead of his dream.
He said, “I don't know what I'm doing out here without pants on (great, this signals to me he is coming a bit more into reality).
I said, “It's OK Dad, let's just get some coffee! (He didn't seem overly anxious or upset, but I always want to reassure him and it's best before someone is too anxious or upset.)
He said, “Well, we will go inside and I’ll get pants on then we can look for the lawnmower?”
I agreed and we walked back into the house with me, arm-in-arm as he complained about his weak ankle. Once inside, I immediately prepared his coffee so he would have something to do and enjoy. He stayed in the kitchen with me for a bit while I started preparing his breakfast. I was able to get him to settle into his chair in the living room and put on the news (Again, something new for him to see and concentrate on and hopefully would help his brain forget or move off of the lawnmower search).
As he ate his breakfast, both my husband and I stayed in the living room with him. We didn’t want him to be alone, and we wanted to participate in helping him move out of the dream state and be more in reality. Plus, we didn’t trust that he wouldn’t leave again to finish the job or to find the lawnmower. Over the next hour, he kept talking about the experience, moving from actively believing he had done a large lawn job and wasn’t finished and slowly moving to statements that told me he wasn’t sure what of his experience was real and what was a dream.
When he looked at me and asked, “Was I outside mowing the lawn?”
I replied, “No, it was only a dream.”
The main take-away
This morning, I believe the best actions were that we acted quickly and found him within minutes. Based on the story he was living, I don't believe he would have actually left the yard because he was looking for a lawnmower, so he would have looked around the yard, not on the street, but no one has clarity in what is going on in the dementia brain, so I feel very blessed this was a quick and simple experience. Here are a couple of take-aways:
1. Staying calm and jumping right into their reality is critical. My focus was to reassure Dad and calm any anxiety or fears he might have. Avoid any contradictions of his reality or any talk to deny what he was experiencing (such as there is no lawnmower, you were not mowing the lawn). Speak in a calm, loving, and supportive voice. Our LO's read facial and tone of voice more than the actual words you are speaking.
2. Distraction - My distraction didn't completely work to get his mind off the experience/issue, but it did slowly divert focus and get him on track with his normal routine (coffee and breakfast at 7 am, not wandering around outside).
3. Human contact - I calmly and soothingly stroked his arm and held his arm and hand, which certainly was grounding and reassuring. I made sure he wasn't alone until I could assess that his mind was back in reality.
To prevent Your LO (Loved One) from leaving the house on their own:
1. Keep the day structured and active, add a little exercise. This keeps a routine and expends energy, which supports a good night's sleep.
2. Try to reduce naps during the day, which supports a good night's sleep.
3. Install locks that are very high or low, (out of the line of sight for LO—be sure the family can still get out in case of fire.
4. Camouflage the door – by painting it the same color as the wall, and cover it with a tapestry or a curtain over the door. Be sure to hide the door handle.
5. Put away ‘going out’ trigger items, such as keys, coat, and purses. Do not leave these items at the door.
6. Add a large colorful ‘STOP’ sign to the door, right at the line of sight of your LO. Put a large black rug on the floor in front of the door. LO might think this is a hole and dangerous to step on.
7. Limit liquids before bed.
8. Add a door open alarm system, such as jingle bells hanging on the door, or a purchased alarm system.
Wandering Safety Plan – what to do if your LO gets out on their own:
1. Identification – Ensure your LO has identification on him/her at all times. Unfortunately, if they wander out of bed, they likely will not take their wallet with them, so explore a necklace or bracelet.
2. Inform neighbors, friends, family, and local police of your LO’s condition, and let them know if they see your LO, to contact you right away.
3. Keep a recent, clear photo of your LO face including a brief list of your LO’s medical conditions.
4. Try to take note of what your LO is wearing every day.
5. Keep a list of names and phone numbers you would want to call right away (neighbor’s family and police). It may seem unnecessary, but under great stress, your own mind may forget an important contact, and having a list also allows you to have someone else help you by calling all the numbers while you continue searching.
6. Keep a list of places your LO might wander to such as things from their past that are important to them, such as their prior home, place of work, church, coffee shop, or favorite store or friend.
7. It was suggested that your LO might automatically go in the direction of their dominant hand, (i.e. if they are right-handed, they will turn right when they get on the road.)
8. Research and buy a tracking device that will work well with your LO (smartwatch, locator watch, smartphone, GPS tracking devices that attached to wallet, purse, or insole of shoes).
9. Enroll in Medical Alert + Alzheimer’s Association – this increases your chances your LO will be found quickly and be reunited with you before they experience harm.
10. Most important – Spend no more than 15 minutes searching on your own, then call 911. Next call the Alzheimer’s Association safe return program1-800-625-3780. Even if they are not currently enrolled, the police or someone finding your LO are likely to call this number to connect with you.
Caregiver Training: Wandering | UCLA Alzheimer's and Dementia Care Program
How to respond to wandering in dementia: Keep your loved one safe (Part 1)
- Dementia Careblazers
KNOW WHAT TO DO if your loved one wanders away: Make your dementia wandering safety plan (Part 2) - Dementia Careblazers
MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program 24/7 emergency phone number to file missing person report: 1.800.625.3780.
Related Topic: Agitation and Anxiety can trigger wandering
Caregiver Training: Agitation and Anxiety | UCLA Alzheimer's and Dementia Care Program https://youtu.be/hahvUXwTXE4
Link to article with several tracking/assistance devices https://www.alzheimers.net/8-8-14-location-devices-dementia
Smart Soles - $299 plus $30 monthly fee / charges in 2-4 hours and last 1-2 days https://odditymall.com/gps-tracking-shoe-insoles-for-seniors
Watch with GPS - $370 plus $30 monthly fee / optional ‘locking’ clasp so it cannot be removed from wrist without specialized tool. https://www.alzstore.com/gps-tracker-watch-elderly-p/0950.htm
Child-Safe (or dementia) Door Handle Guards: