DEAR DOCTOR K: My husband has Alzheimer’s disease. Last week he left the house, and it took us hours to find him. How can I prevent him from wandering again?
DEAR READER: One of the most dangerous and distressing symptoms of Alzheimer’s is wandering. It may seem unfathomable that a person might suddenly get up at night to go to the post office, or leave home at any hour for no apparent reason.
However, some simple measures can help to prevent wandering, at least for a time. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends these steps:
• Install slide bolts at the top or bottom of doors.
• Place warning bells on doors.
• Cover doorknobs with childproof knobs.
• Camouflage doors by painting them the same shade as surrounding walls.
• Create a two-foot black threshold in front of doors with paint or tape. (A rug might do the job, too.) This creates the illusion of a gap or hole that a person with limited visual spatial abilities may be reluctant to cross.
Also, take these additional precautions so you’re prepared if your husband does wander:
• Have a recent, close-up photograph of your husband available, both print and digital.
• Keep a written list of places that he might go, such as church or a favorite restaurant, job site or previous home.
• Buy identification jewelry engraved with “memory impaired” and your husband’s name, address and phone number.
A high-tech option uses GPS and cellphone towers to provide an approximate location for a person who might wander. You can request an alert if your husband, who must be wearing the locator device, leaves a specified zone. Or you might tap into the system only in case of emergency.
Why do people with Alzheimer’s disease wander? Where do they think they’re going, and why? Health professionals who work with people who have this disease think that wandering may be prompted by deep-seated memories of work, chores or hobbies, or a longing to return to a former home.