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Wandering Lost with Dementia or Autism

October 29th, 2013 | by admin admin | in Safety Advice |    2   comments

dementia.jpg“A vulnerable adult has been reported missing…” The public appeal for information is a familiar one. An adult with dementia or developmental disabilities becomes disoriented and wanders the streets lost, unnoticed. Friends and family, meanwhile, search frantically, driving the streets, phoning hospitals.

Similarly, nearly half of children with autism wander, and the behaviour may continue into adulthood. Since persons with autism have challenges with social and communication skills and safety awareness, the results are dangerous and often fatal.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Six in 10 people with dementia will wander.” That’s not “may,” but “will.” It can happen at any stage of dementia. Anyone with a compromised memory is at risk. Such a person may try to go to work when there is no work, or to go home while at home. She may return late from routine walks or drives, pace restlessly or appear lost in a new or changed environment.

Some ways you can protect vulnerable adults include:

1. Create a daily routine.

2. Identify when wandering is most likely to happen and plan activities. For example if a person becomes anxious or agitated after meals, this may be a good time for light exercise.

3. Offer reassurance without correcting misperceptions. It is better to say, “We’re safe and comfortable now. We can go home later,” rather than, “You know we’re already at home.”

4. Ensure basic needs are met, such as toileting and food. If night wandering is a problem, an empty bladder is especially important at bedtime.

5. Provide supervision. Never lock up a person with dementia at home or in a car.

6. Avoid busy venues, such as shopping centres.

7. Secure exits. Install locks above or below the line of sight. Use sliding bolts at the top or bottom of doors.

8. Camouflage doors and knobs by painting them the same colour as the surrounding walls.  

9. Install a home alarm system or at least hang a bell over exit doors to signal when someone has exited.

10. Hide car keys.

11. Consider using a medical ID bracelet. The Alzheimer Society of Canada has partnered with the Canadian MedicAlert Foundation to provide identification services.

The American Alzheimer’s Association has more tips for protecting dementia patients prone to wandering, and explains how to respond when loved ones go missing.

Many of these tips also apply to children with autism. The Autism Speaks web site also recommends:

1. Secure your home. Consider using dead-bolt locks, posting printable stop signs on exits, fencing your yard and installing locks out of children’s reach.

2. Teach your child to swim. Many of these children who wander die from drowning. Remove all toys from your own pool, if any, and fence it in.

3. Alert neighbours and first responders. Introduce your child to neighbours and provide a photograph. Create an information handout for first responders, friends, family and neighbours to have on hand in case anything happens. See the National Autism Association’s Big Red Safety Tool Kit.

4. Consider tracking devices which use radio frequency or GPS.

5. If your child refuses to wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace, consider a temporary tattoo with your contact information.

Visit the AWAARE (Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response Education) web site for more resources to prevent wandering incidents and deaths within the autism community.


Note: This blog discusses general safety and security topics. It is not intended to provide comprehensive advice or guidance. In all matters of personal safety and security, we encourage readers to research topics in depth and consult a security professional about specific concerns.

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