June 13, 2017 – Dear Dementia Solutions:
“I was contacted by the care home where my dad stays and informed that he’s been wandering away from the premises and even managed to leave for 2 hours one time. As you can imagine, I’m greatly concerned. The care home has suggested I hire a private companion to keep an eye on my dad. Is this common practice and is there anything else that can be done to address his wandering ways?”
~ Wandering Woes
Dear Wandering Woes:
When someone with dementia starts wandering away from their home, it understandably causes a great deal of fear and anxiety for loved ones. It’s important for you, and other family members in your shoes, to know that you don’t have to feel helpless, that there are steps you can take in finding a solution.
Start by asking, “Why is dad trying to leave the home?” Though the answers may not always seem logical, they may be very real in your dad’s mind. Maybe he thinks he
needs to go somewhere, such as school or to work. Even though his school days and work days may be long gone, past memories could be surfacing and causing confusion.
Another possible reason for wandering is physical discomfort. For example, having hemorrhoids often prompts people to not want to sit for too long. Hunger could also be a trigger. If your dad gets hungry or craves a particular food, he may not be able to articulate what he wants and instead feels he has to go somewhere to get it himself.
A reaction to medications could be another possible cause.
Once the reason(s) behind the behaviour are better understood, more targeted solutions can be found. Any physical discomfort should be treated. A doctor may be needed to help investigate. A pharmacy review can also help identify which medications, and what types of interactions between medications, may be problematic. Also consider consulting a dietician at the care home to help your dad with any feelings of hunger.
Inquire if the care home can also create a 24-hour observation record that indicates when your dad tends to wander more, whether it’s after meals or maybe after visiting the bathroom. A recreation therapist can also lend insight into activities that may channel your dad’s restlessness. Perhaps he isn’t used to a sedentary lifestyle and needs to feel more physically active. A daily exercise program or even a walk with a visiting volunteer could be helpful in this regard.
If your dad is wandering because he’s regressing into his past and thinks he needs to be somewhere, for example the school or his office, try reassuring him, not by telling him his concerns aren’t real, but rather by using Therapeutic Reasoning™. This involves understanding reality as he sees it and allaying his concerns accordingly. For example, if he’s worried about missing an exam at school, you can assure him that the school has given him a break and that the exam will be delayed till next year.
A paid companion, as suggested by the care home, could be an effective solution, but it’s certainly not the only approach that can be taken. As you decide what works best, ask questions about what staff may be observing and combine it with your own understanding about your dad—his personality and experiences. As you uncover the clues, solutions will begin to surface. Always remember that it all starts by asking the key question: “Why?”
Read more questions and answers from CARP’s trusted dementia expert.
Do you have a specific question relating to dementia that you need answered? Please submit your questions by email to: [email protected]
Karen Tyrell CDP, CPCA, is a Dementia Consultant, Educator & Author, and Founder of
Personalized Dementia Solutions Inc. (www.dementiasolutions.ca). Karen offers her
expertise on dementia care through speaking engagements, workshops and by workingone-on-one with families and caregivers to provide emotional support and practical solutions.
The contents of this column are provided for information purposes only. They are not
intended to replace clinical diagnosis or medical advice from a health professional. For any health related issue, always seek medical advice first from a trained medical professional.