“I Want To Go Home”. Heartbreaking and frustrating, but it’s not your fault. More than 60% of those with Alzheimer’s will wander, and if they are not found within 24 hours, up to half will suffer serious injury or death. People living with Alzheimer’s or a related disorder may become confused and lost, even in their own neighborhood or places that are familiar to them.
Confused, frustrated and sometimes angry, people with Alzheimer’s who wander are often unable or unwilling to ask for help, leaving them vulnerable to weather, traffic and those who prey on the less fortunate. While there are several primary reasons for wandering, the most frequently heard and most heartbreaking to a family caregiver is “I Want To Go Home”.
Wandering is a common and dangerous behavior which frustrates family caregivers, who often blame themselves while feeling powerless and out of control. “Mom has been in the same house for 20 years”, a friend and long time caregiver told me, “and I don’t understand where she wants to go, it breaks my heart, what am I doing wrong?” "It started with those five words that made me feel guilty, ashamed and even a little angry. Sometimes I just wanted to scream
- This is your home Mom, our home, what more can I do to make you happy?"
Mom or dad may not feel at home, yearning perhaps for the home of their childhood, or the last place they felt comfortable, safe and in control. Often they just wander throughout the house, but for people living with Alzheimer's, confusion and anger can signal an “elopement risk” because they will often take extreme measures to get to where they think they belong, even if that place is an illusion or fragment of a memory from long ago.
Alzheimer’s and related dementia disorders can cause patients to have a compulsion to just go “somewhere else.” Where somewhere else is may not be clear or even known to them, but it can be a strong and irresistible urge. The cause of ‘Wandering’ compulsion is often:
- Their inability to recognize their current home.
- Depression, anxiety and frustration.
- A need to go to their childhood home where they were happy.
- An overwhelming desire to return to a happier place at a happier time of life.
“The sound of her voice, the look on her face of confusion and longing often made me feel deeply sad.”
As a caregiver, especially the child of a parent stricken with dementia, you must realize that this is not your fault!
Mom is most likely longing for a time that remains fresh and understandable in her mind. A time when she was safe and secure and knew every one's name and face. A time when Dad was alive and kept her safe. A time when she was happy.
Make your mission to make Mom feel safe and secure and feel at home. Put your arm around her shoulders and tell her how wonderful the place she lives is, and in what a safe place she lives, and how lucky we are to live here.
When Dad says he wants to go home respond directly, and say, “I don't want you to go anywhere, I want you to stay here with me, it's you and me now.” Do this every day to reinforce him. It takes a while to imprint something into the mind of a person living with dementia. You have to keep trying and be patient.
Learn to spot the risks for Wandering.
A person with dementia may be at risk for wandering if he or she:
- Tries or wants to "go home" even when (s)he’s already at home,
- Has a hard time locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or kitchen,
- Is nervous or anxious in crowded areas, such as shopping malls or restaurants,
- Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements,
If you live with or care for a person with dementia, here are a few tips to help you reduce the risk of wandering:
- Move around and exercise to reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness.
- Avoid busy places that are confusing and can cause disorientation, such as shopping centers and grocery markets.
- Do not leave someone with dementia unsupervised, even at home. -Ever-
- Keep the day structured: Carry out daily activities, such as folding laundry or preparing dinner, to keep a daily routine she can imprint to again and again.
- Ensure all basic needs are met (going to the bathroom, eating, and drinking.)
- Reassure her if she if she feels lost, abandoned or disoriented.
- Place deadbolts either high or low on exterior doors.
- Control access to house keys.
- Don’t leave car keys available, a person with dementia may not just wander on foot.
When a wandering incident occurs
- Quickly search the vicinity of where the person was last seen.
- Check for car keys, luggage, or other items that may indicate where the person may have gone.
- Contact the police immediately – Mom is in IMMEDIATE DANGER!
- Alert friends and neighbors to the situation.
- Have someone stay at home in case she returns.
Learn more about Alzheimer's caring at Alzheimer's Association. For Home Care options and respite care visit BrightStar Care or call us at (561) 921-0550. Caring for seniors with Alzheimer's, and providing respite care for home caregivers in Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach Florida.