2010-02-10 / Seniors

How To Track Wandering Alzheimer’s Patients

Dear Savvy Senior,

My wife has Alzheimer’s disease and I worry about her wandering off. What tips or resources can you recommend to help me with this?

Always Moving

Dear Always:

Wandering is a very common behavior in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. For caregivers, this can be frightening because many of those who wander off end up confused and lost, even in their own neighborhood, and are unable to communicate who they are or where they live. But there are things you can do to guard against this and protect your loved one. Here’s what you should know.

Wandering Numbers

The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease today is estimated at 5.3 million, and according to the Alzheimer’s Association more than 60 percent of them will wander away from their homes at some point. Most wanders – around 95 percent – are found within a quarter mile of their last location, but if an elderly person is not found within 24 hours, there is a 50 percent chance they’ll suffer a serious injury or die.

Home Solutions

To help keep your wife safe and at home there are a number of things you can do. For starters, you can reduce her tendency to wander by keeping her occupied with simple activities and by encouraging her to move and exercise. There is also a variety of simple household adjustments you could make, like installing a “key access” deadbolt or some type of safety lock on the exterior doors to keep her from wandering outside. To keep her from driving away, hide the car keys. You can find many other wandering prevention tips at alz.org/safetycenter. It’s also a good idea to alert your neighbors that your wife may wander so they can keep an eye out, and have on hand a recent picture of her to show around the neighborhood or to the police if she does get lost.

Helpful Programs

There are also a variety of programs that can help locate your wife if she happens to wander off. Here are some to check into:

Silver Alert program. Currently available in about a dozen states, this program is modeled after Amber Alerts for missing children. If your wife goes missing, contact Silver Alert, which will alert the public and law enforcement agencies and the media so that citizens can be on the lookout. To find out if Silver Alert is available in your state, contact your local Alzheimer’s Association. Call 800-272- 3900 to get your local number. (Note: Congress is currently considering a national Silver Alert bill, which would provide funding to help all states create programs in the future.)

Medic Alert + Safe Return program. Offered by the Alzheimer’s Association (medicalert.org/safereturn; 888-633-4298) this is a national program that can also help locate your wife if she wanders away. With this service she would wear a medical alert ID bracelet or pendant engraved with her medical conditions and the Safe Return phone number. She will also be listed on the program’s national database that anyone can call at any time to report her missing or found. This program costs $25 per year, with a $25 initial setup fee.

Project Lifesaver. Currently offered by around 1,100 local law enforcement agencies around the country, Project Lifesaver (projectlifesaver.org; 877-580- 5433) provides a wristband to its members that contains a radio transmitter and emits tracking signals. If a member goes missing, one or two officers will use the tracking equipment to quickly locate the person. The cost for this service is around $30 per month with a $99 enrollment fee.

GPS Tracking

The Alzheimer’s Association recently introduced a new GPS locating service called Comfort Zone (alz.org/comfortzone; 877-259-4850) that can help, powered by Omnilink and specifically designed for Alzheimer’s patients. With this service, your wife would carry or wear a small GPS tracking device that would notify you or other caregivers via text or e-mail if she were to wander beyond a pre-established area, and would let you know exactly where to find her if she did. Costs: $200 for a tracking device plus monthly service fees ranging between $43 and $80.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to “The NBC Today Show” and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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