I have some friends who have a toddler. They recently invited me over to see their new swimming pool. I was astonished because there was no fence around the pool, so I asked the husband, “Don’t you need a fence to protect your child?” He said, “What for? He hasn’t fallen in yet.”
Sorry, that’s not a true story. I made it up, but it is exactly the kind of logic I have heard many times from caregivers when I warn them about the dangers of wandering. I’ve heard them say, “We don’t have a problem. He hasn’t wandered yet,” “He does not leave my side,” or “I cannot be out of his/her eye sight.”
It is almost inevitable that people with dementia will wander, and we must have countermeasures to keep them safe. Six out of 10 people who wander will get lost, and if not found within 24 hours there is a high chance that death will be the outcome. Wandering is very dangerous under any circumstances, but especially in Citrus County where we have jungle-like vegetation, many lakes and wetlands, and lots of drainage retention areas.
Keep in mind that the wandering person immediately finds himself in an alien environment. There will be unfamiliar landmarks, noise, possibly traffic, and other distractions. They are likely to become frightened and more confused, and may hide. In this state of mind, calling their name is not likely to get results. Recruit assistance – such as the Sheriff’s Department – as quickly as possible because the amount time that passes only increases the likelihood of a bad outcome.
There are many products that can be used to reduce the likelihood of wandering, or to improve the chance that those who wander will be found. A bracelet with the individual’s name and a number to call is advisable. There are more sophisticated products such as GPS monitors – like an ankle bracelet – that can be activated with your cell phone; but these can be expensive. The Alzheimer’s Family Organization has a wanderers ID program that will provide members with a pendant or bracelet with each membership.
You can put electronic alarms on your doors so you will immediately hear when someone exits the house. You can put simple 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 alone when you are gone.
I strongly recommend a simple and inexpensive product called a Human Scent Preservation Kit – Scent Kit for short — that can help in locating a missing person. It is a double-walled jar that will hold a sterile gauze containing the pure scent of a person for seven years or longer. Having this kit will allow a special bloodhound unit to trace your loved one (it is a great idea for children as well).
We recently had a rescue here in Citrus County, thanks to a scent kit. A man with dementia living in Black Diamond wandered off during the night. As luck would have it, his wife had preserved her husband’s unique scent. When she realized he was gone from the home, she called the Sheriff’s office which responded with searchers on foot with dogs, cars, and even a helicopter.
When Linda Boles, president of Find M Friends, a bloodhound trainer and handler arrived, they opened the scent kit jar and the dog went to work. Within five minutes, she found the man, hiding in the bushes under the roof overhang of the house next door. He was in a place, right there nearby, where the helicopter crew could not possibly see him and where foot searchers had not noticed. Possibly, a life had been saved.
The reason that I bring this subject up is that the holiday season is fast approaching and we may be thinking about traveling with our loved one. This will introduce them to unfamiliar places, unfamiliar routines. This will be a perfect situation for getting lost, and if you do not have a plan in place it could be disastrous for both of you. So my advice for you is to plan, be prepared, and do not take things lightly. Your loved one can disappear faster than you think and will not be able to explain where they need to be, or where they are going. Have contact information on your loved one, have a recent photo. Be as proactive as you can to make sure that this does not happen to you.
We’re here to help you keep them safe.
Until next time remember: “We all deserve the best”
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© Debbie Selsavage, 2016