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Planning Retirement Online

Wandering Dementia Sufferers

Blue Peter played a part in many of our lives when we were young, so it was really sad to read recently that the programme’s popular presenter John Noakes had disappeared from his Majorcan home.

Luckily, after many hours searching, he was found.

But one of the big problems that can be associated with people suffering from dementia is when they take off for no apparent reason. With memory and orientation problems, it can be hard and often impossible for them to return home on their own. Sometimes it can happen in the middle of the night, causing dreadful anxiety for the carers and often for the emergency services as well.

This walking off is often called wandering, but in fact a dementia sufferer rarely goes out to “wander”. They are often found walking as if with a real purpose.

There has been quite a lot of research on why dementia sufferers decide to suddenly walk about. It could be simply because in the past they enjoyed walking, and something has triggered this memory and a desire to repeat this activity. It can sometimes be boredom, or a sudden urge to use up excess energy.

Pain is thought to be a possible cause of walking around for dementia sufferers. Also, some suddenly want to try and find a place, or a person, from their past. This desire can become overwhelming and cause a sudden take off at any time day or night.

Whatever the cause, a dementia sufferer who suddenly walks off can cause major problems.

To try and counteract this, the best immediate response is to attempt to identify why this is happening. If it could be because of a change of lifestyle from active to more sedentary, then perhaps simply introducing an exercise bike or a rocking chair; or ensuring the sufferer goes out every day for a good walk, can alleviate the problem.

If the cause could be pain and general discomfort, then obviously this needs to be assessed medically.

When a person goes out because they are confused and possibly searching for someone or something related to their past, this can be very difficult to deal with. Talking as much as you can about it is a good start; perhaps going through some old photographs; or driving around an area from childhood or youth or visiting a place connected with a particularly happy period in their life might help.

If they are set on re-enacting an activity that they used to do in their younger days, then it can help to try and replace this with something new in their current life; perhaps with an activity that they can undertake that makes them feel needed and useful.

But sometimes there seems little can be done to stop someone with dementia from walking out. Some tips to help in these circumstances include ensuring the garden around a house is secure, so that the person can walk around in safety. Sometimes identification names and numbers can be sewn into clothing; or paper with contact details places in various pockets. Identification bracelets are growing in popularity these days and offer a really useful method of ensuring identification if someone with dementia gets lost.

Without doubt, if you are caring for someone with dementia who is increasingly wandering off and getting lost, then you need to seek professional advice and help.

You will not be alone. The majority of people with dementia are cared for at home by a relative or friend with an average age of 60 to 65. There are estimated to be 670,000 family and friends supporting dementia sufferers in the UK, and because of the numbers involved today there is a lot of information and assistance available.

Just some of the sites to start finding out more about the help available are:

www.alzheimers.org.uk/caring

www.dementiauk.org

www.ageuk.org.uk/health-wellbeing/conditions-illnesses/the-four-faces-of-dementia/caring-for-someone-with-dementia

www.dementiafriends.org.uk

www.medicalert.org.uk

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