Wandering can be Deadly: A List of Resources for Caregivers Looking after Dementia Sufferers

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Editor’s Note: Following a tragic hit and run accident that took place Wednesday August 6th in the evening, CBC news published the following article urging caregivers to take precautions… A Canadian family is grieving after an 83-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease was struck and killed by a vehicle on Highway 400 in the Toronto-area. The driver has turned himself in to the police and is now being charged, but that will not bring Chandrowci Basdeo — who was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease— back to her family. The woman’s family said it was the first time she had wandered away from the home, which is located about 4 kilometres from Highway 400.

About 200,000 people in Ontario are living with dementia, and more than half of them will go missing at some point, according to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada. Experts say that Alzheimer’s sufferers are prone to wandering and that they do it either to attempt something productive and stimulating or because they are “reliving the past”, Tiffany Chow, a senior clinician-scientist at the Ross Memory Clinic at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto told CBC News Friday:

They think they’re late for work or think they’re late picking the kids up, and they’re trying to resolve that any way they can. But they can’t access the car or don’t have car keys, so they get there on foot.

“They’re on a mission. It may be a misguided mission,but sometimes there’s a reason.”

This particularly useful CBC News article sets out a list of preventative measures:

“…setting alarms or locking doors,provided someone is on the scene to unlock them in the event of a fire or other emergency. Alarms are also available that will go off if the person gets out of bed.

Caregivers can also make use of items that will identify and, in some cases, track the location of the patient. Bracelets that emit unique radio signals are available through the organization Project Lifesaver.

The Alzheimer’s Society recommends caregivers register their loved ones with the Finding Your Way program, which provides police with essential information and a photo of the person who’s wandered off.”

CARP has compiled a list of links and resources and tips, it is by no means exhaustive but it lists the most popular and reliable options. There are many products on the market geared towards dementia sufferers and their caregivers; it may be best to opt for the most reputable products available:

  1. Project Lifesaver (referenced in the CBC story): Citizens enrolled in Project Lifesaver wear a small personal transmitter around the wrist or ankle that emits an individualized tracking signal. If an enrolled client goes missing, the caregiver notifies their local Project Lifesaver agency, and a trained emergency team responds to the wanderer’s area. Most who wander are found within a few miles from home, and search times have been reduced from hours and days to minutes. Recovery times for PLI clients average 30 minutes — 95% less time than standard operations. To find out more visit: http://www.projectlifesaver.org/
  2. Finding Your Way is a program that offerspractical advice on how people with dementia can stay safe while staying active. It shows how to best deal with the risk of going missing. You can click here to visit their website and find out more. Similar advice can be found in international websites like Family Caregiver Alliance.
  3. Identification form– Download a form that can be completed in advance and quickly passed onto searchers, saving precious time in the event of an emergency.
  4. MedicAlert® Safely Home®– By registering for this program and wearing a MedicAlert® bracelet, people with dementia can be more easily identified and returned home should they become lost.
  5. “Lifeline” – they are medical alert services with auto alert options and quick access “push button” devices that could be useful: http://www.lifeline.ca/.
  6. If the person receiving care finds the above options obtrusive or embarrassing or is in the early stages there may be other options… Remember that newer cell phones like I-phones all have a “find my I-phone” GPS option (among other GPS properties). There are many Apps like justyourlocation.com that can let loved ones keep track of each other – provided they keep their smartphones with them.These could come in handy. The Finding Your Way program has a useful factsheet on this as well.

Essential Reading for Caregivers and Loved Ones…

  • UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS/COPING: The finding your Way Program has also published a fantastic guide that provides a very effective introduction to dementia and related behaviours. It is a tool to help people understand behaviour caused by the dementia. This short guide provides real life examples and simple advice for friends and families of those living with the disease.You can download it here in English, though it is available in 7 other languages!
  • COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY: This Alzheimer’s society of Canada webpage delves into the various ways in which dementia can inhibit communication and lays out some great strategies for overcoming these obstacles and communicating more effectively with persons who suffer from dementia.