How to Help the Ones We Love


Wandering is absolutely one of the most dangerous, and unfortunately most common, symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Roughly 70% of Alzheimer's patients have at least one instance of wandering, and for others it's so common that local law enforcement knows them by their first name. Caregivers know it's not something to be taken lightly; there are so many dangers for someone with this disease. Usually they have not dressed properly to be outside and are exposed to the elements, they can be caught in bushes and brambles, fall into a ditch, or they may even wander onto a busy road and not remember to look before they cross. Pools and hot tubs are also a source of danger for the Alzheimer's patient, so if you have one in your backyard, be sure it's closed off so your loved one will not fall in. There are, however, many precautions you can take to make sure your loved one doesn't begin to wander.

  • Get enrolled in a program. LoJack's SafetyNet, and the Alzheimer's Associations Safe Return program, are two programs that can help locate your loved one if he becomes lost due to wandering. With LoJack, your loved one is fitted with a wrist or ankle monitor that police or public safety agencies can instantly use to find your loved one and return him to you. The Safe Return program works with a bracelet your loved one wears with his name and allergies listed, and the Alzheimer's Association is contacted to help return him to you.
  • Install a door alarm - on every door. Wandering frequently happens in the evening, “sundown” phase of the day, but can happen at any time of day or night. When you install a door alarm, or even a loud buzzer or bell, you will have a better chance of catching your loved one before they exit the home - even if you're sleeping. Make sure whatever you use is audible from your bedroom. You can find alarms at your local hardware store or at Home Depot's website.
  • Address agitation and restlessness immediately. Your loved one may wander because he simply isn't moving around enough. If your loved one is restless, go on a walk together. People with Alzheimer's disease need exercise just as much as anybody else. Go outside to walk and play if it's nice out, otherwise visit a museum or walk around the nearest mall. If you can't get out of the house, do stretches and activities inside - you can even get silly and dance together!
  • Address disorientation immediately. This is the second major reason why people often wander. If you see your loved one becoming distressed and disoriented, reassure them and make them more comfortable. If they feel safe and loved in their environment, they will be less likely to wander off to someplace they felt important in life, such as their old job or picking their (now-grown) child up from elementary school.
  • Place locks on doors, either very high or low. When locks are out of view of the eye, it may help keep your loved one from opening the doors. He may still know how to unlock a lock, but if it is very high or low on the door, he might not be able to find it.
  • Install child-proof locks on windows. Windows might not seem a likely exit, but someone with the disease who feels uncomfortable in their environment is going to look for any way to get out. Make especially sure that windows and balconies on upper levels are securely locked in a way your loved one cannot open them. You may also want to consider child barriers for the window, such as the ones you can find on Make sure to use the kind that can withstand an adult-sized person.
  • Install a fence. If you decide to use a fence, make sure the gate has an appropriate latch that's not too easy to undo. Chain-link fence is not necessarily the best, because your loved one may try to climb it and actually get out, or might get injured climbing over. Something tall and wooden without anything that can be used as a foothold is ideal.
  • Use soft, low seating. If your loved one is comfortable in a chair, especially if it is “his” chair, it can be a good tool to keep him from wandering. What's more, if your loved one is in a chair that's relatively low to the ground and he has some mobility issues, it can keep him from getting up unnecessarily. Consider a recliner or “gaming” chair that rocks or is comfortable, but isn't too easy to get out of.
  • Use brightly-colored or distinctive clothing. This can help identify a lost loved one in a crowd, at dusk or dawn, and will make them easier to spot if they're in a wooded area or obscured in some way.
  • Never leave your loved one unattended, especially in public places or in your car. Even if you're just running in to the store for a few things, your loved one can easily wander away from your car. And chances are, if you're in a car, you're near a road - one of the most dangerous places for someone without keen awareness.
  • Be aware of other modes of transportation. Walking is not the only form of wandering! Wanderers with Alzheimer's have been found hundreds of miles from home, either because they hopped in the car and drove cross-country or bought a plane or train ticket. Make sure your car keys are out of sight and your loved one only has access to a few dollars at a time.

If you fear your loved one may begin wandering, get him registered with one of the programs listed above. The time to register is not after he has begun wandering, but before he even starts. This is a symptom to be taken very seriously, because it is truly a life and death matter.

Make Life Better Today

Contact the Alzheimer's Association if your loved one has never wandered before - it's a good precautionary measure. If your loved one has wandered before, see what LoJack's program can do for you.

Make Life Better This Week

Be observant this week and see if your loved one is exhibiting any of the behaviors that can lead to wandering. Is he feeling under-valued? Is he anxious? How can you help him maintain a peaceful demeanor?

Make Life Better This Month

Purchase some brightly-colored clothing for your loved one and work it into their wardrobe, talk to your family about putting in a fence, and borrow your son's bean-bag chair for your dad to sit in.