Moving about, leaving home

It is common for a some people with dementia to leave their home and become lost; many do repeatedly. In fact, over 60 per cent of those with dementia will walk off at some point.

This can be dangerous - even life threatening - for the person who goes out. The stress can weigh heavily on caregivers and family. Keep your loved one safe by knowing the risk factors and think about providing them with a Medic Alert device.

What is walking about (wandering)?
People with dementia do not fit the textbook definition of wandering, which is: 'To move about without a definite destination or purpose.' People with dementia who go out always have a purpose or goal in mind. They may be searching for something that is lost or trying to fulfil a former job responsibility.

Who is at risk?
Everyone is at risk to a certain extent. However, a person may be at risk from walking about if he or she:-
• Returns from a regular walk or drive later than usual
• Tries to fulfil former obligations, such as going to work
• Tries or wants to 'go home' even when at home
• Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements
• Has difficulty locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or dining room
• Checks the whereabouts of familiar people
• Acts as if doing a hobby or chore, but nothing gets done (moves around pots and soil without actually planting anything)
• Appears lost in a new or changed environment

Walking about can be caused by several factors, including:-
• Medication side effects
• Stress
• Confusion related to time
• Restlessness
• Agitation
• Anxiety
• Inability to recognize familiar people, places and objects
• Fear arising from the misinterpretation of sights and sounds
• Desire to fulfil former obligations, such as going to work or looking after a child

Tips to reduce walking about
• Encourage movement and exercise to reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness
• Ensure all basic needs are met (needing the toilet, nutrition, thirst)
• Involve the person in daily activities, such as folding laundry or preparing dinner
• Place colour-matching cloth over doorknobs to camouflage
• Redirect pacing or restless behaviour
• Place a mirror near doorways. The reflection of a person's own face will often stop him or her from exiting the door
• Reassure the person if he or she feels lost, abandoned or disoriented

Tips to protect a loved one from getting lost
• Inform your neighbours, Parish Constable and local emergency services of the person's condition and keep a list of their names and telephone numbers
• Keep your home safe and secure by installing deadbolt or slide-bolt locks on exterior doors and limiting access to potentially dangerous areas. Never lock the person with dementia in a home without supervision
• Be aware that the person may not only go off on foot but also by car or by other modes of transport

Tips for preparing for emergencies
• Keep a list of emergency phone numbers and addresses of the local Centenier, police, fire department and hospital
• Keep a list of physicians' phone numbers and current medications (with dosages)
• Check fire extinguishers and smoke alarms

Make sure the person carries a Helpcard with their name and emergency contact phone numbers. Helpcards are available free of charge from Jersey Alzheimer's Association, Parish Halls and the Memory Clinic.

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Did you know?

The number of people with dementia is increasing rapidly. It is estimated that there are currently 1,400 people in Jersey living with dementia, many of whom have not as yet obtained a formal diagnosis; this number is set to double over the next 25 years.