While Alzheimer’s is most commonly associated with memory loss, in fact there are many other symptoms attached to this disease and other forms of dementia. One of these symptoms is an inability to recognize when one is hungry or thirsty. Another is the tendency to wander. These two combined can bring tragic results, especially now, during the hottest months of the year.
Dehydration is always a clear and present danger. It is not enough to ask your dementia person if he or she is thirsty. They will most likely tell you “No” because they don’t think they are. Don’t take this response at face value. Make an extra effort to help them drink more liquids, and give them foods with high water content during these hot summer days.
Wandering is also a greater danger when it is so hot outside. Six out of ten people with dementia will wander. You should keep this in mind, even if your person with dementia has not yet exhibited this behavior. Statistics show that if a person with dementia wanders and becomes lost, the odds are they will suffer serious injury or death if not found within 24 hours. This bad result can come even more quickly if they become dehydrated and are exposed to extreme heat.
So, what should a caregiver do?
1) Be extra vigilant toward your person with dementia when the weather is so hot.
2) If they disappear and you cannot locate them within 15 minutes, call 911. Do not press your luck against the hope they will turn up soon.
3) You should provide your loved one with a wanderer’s identification bracelet. The Alzheimer’s Family Organization (AFO, located in Spring Hill) offers them free with membership.
4) Get a human scent preservation kit. With the help of scent-discriminating dogs, this “scent kit” can greatly reduce the time needed to locate a person
In Citrus County, you can get them from the Sheriff’s Office or an organization called Find-M Friends. In Hernando County, you can them through the AFO.
5) Alarm the doors of your home because those who wander often do so when you are asleep.
6) You can put locks on your doors that the dementia person is not likely to notice or be able to operate, such as at the very top or very bottom of the door. However, never ever leave your loved one locked in when you are gone.
7) There are high-tech countermeasures, such as GPS-equipped watches or bracelets. These, however, are expensive or monitored by agencies that charge monthly fees. Hopefully, this technology will become more common and affordable in the future.
Here is contact information that may be helpful:
Alzheimer’s Family Organization: www.alzheimersfamily.org.
Find-M’ Friends: www.findmfriends.org.
Citrus County Sheriff’s Office: www.sheriffcitrus.org.
Hernando County Sheriff’s Office: www.hernandosheriff.org.