According to the Mayo Clinic website,
Three out of four people with Alzheimer's will wander at some point during the course of the disease. Wanderers who get lost outdoors may become injured or even die of exposure. This risk increases dramatically if the weather is very cold or very hot.
There's a number of ways that you can protect your beloved family member from trying to walk to Disney World or their house in the old country.
Some of the ways the Mayo Clinic suggests for preventing wandering are:
Alarms and locks
A variety of devices can alert you that your loved one is on the move. Pressure-sensitive alarm mats can be placed at the door or at your loved one's bedside. Warning bells can be used on doors. Childproof covers on doorknobs also are helpful. Many people also install sliding bolt locks up high on doors, out of the average person's line of sight.
Doors to off-limits rooms pose a different problem. Camouflaging a door with paint or wallpaper to match the surrounding wall may short-circuit a compulsion to wander into such rooms. Curtains over the door might also work. A mirror on or near the door stops some wanderers. Sometimes a stop sign on a door is enough.
Some people have had success with creating a visual abyss in front of exit doors, by laying down strips of black tape to form a 2-foot black hole at the threshold.
A senior center in Germany has found a new, somewhat more entertaining way of deterring their confused residents from wandering the exciting city of Dusseldorf - they installed a fake bus stop.
According to the Telegraph:
The idea was first tried at Benrath Senior Centre in DÃ¼sseldorf, which pitched an exact replica of a standard stop outside, with one small difference: buses do not use it.
The centre had been forced to rely on police to retrieve patients who wanted to return to their often non-existent homes and families.
Then Benrath teamed up with a local care association called the "Old Lions". They went to the Rheinbahn transport network which supplied the bus stop.
"It sounds funny but it helps," said Franz-Josef Goebel, the chairman of the "Old Lions" association.
"Our members are 84 years old on average. Their short-term memory hardly works, but the long-term memory is still active.
"They know the green and yellow bus sign and remember that waiting there means they will go home."
The result is that errant patients now wait for their trip home at the bus stop, before quickly forgetting why they were there in the first place.
"We will approach them and say that the bus is coming later and invite them in for a coffee," said Richard Neureither, Benrath's director. "Five minutes later they have completely forgotten they wanted to leave."
The idea has proved so successful that it has now been adopted by several other homes across Germany.
I'm wondering whether this whole idea could be broadened a bit. I propose putting up fake bus stops around campus, far away from the places I normally drive. This would keep the undergrads from wandering out in front of my car either drunk or on their cell phones. Strangely, it's almost like they have Alzheimer's.
The problem with implementing the German idea here in the States is that only about 2% of elders would have enough personal recognition of what a bus stop was.