The Suffolk County Police Department issued a Silver Alert in May 2014 after a deaf and mentally disabled man wandered from the Maple Rest Home, an assisted living facility in West Sayville, New York. As a result of the alert, police officials were able to locate Peter Fallon, 73, and return him uninjured to the facility. Fallon had been missing for several hours. In 2011, Fallon wandered from the same facility and was found unharmed five days later in a wooded area.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 60 percent of dementia patients are likely to wander. While wandering is the result of changes in the brains of dementia patients, if left unmonitored, it can lead to dangerous falls, hip fractures, and elopement, a situation in which a dementia sufferer wanders off without a caregiver. Elopement is extremely dangerous and can even be life-threatening. Approximately 45 percent of elopements occur among residents who are new to a long-term care facility such as a nursing home. To prevent elopements, some nursing facilities have a separate, locked unit for dementia residents. In addition, exits are usually alarmed in the event that a door is opened by a wandering patient.
A recent study suggests that an elderly person who wanders typically suffers from a mental impairment, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. In addition, men are more likely to wander than women, and many elderly people who wander are usually 74-years-old or older. People who wander are likely to be on psychotropic medications, have sleep disorders and were probably very active when they were younger.
Even adults with only mild dementia may wander. While wandering is natural for dementia patients, there are several steps caregivers and family members can take to reduce the risk of elopement. First, caregivers can equip doors with bells or alarms that can sound when a door is opened. In addition, family members can cover door knobs with cloth that is the same color as the door. Further, caregivers can install childproof door knobs and install deadbolt locks that are hard for elderly people to open. Safety gates can also be installed by stairways, and night lights should be used to prevent dangerous falls. Finally, family members and caregivers should have a recent photograph of a loved-one in the event that the police need to be called to help locate a dementia patient who wandered away from home.
Family members can also take additional steps to reduce wandering. Basic routines provide a structure that makes dementia sufferers feel comfortable and less stressed. Activities such as exercise should be planned during time when the person is most likely to wander. Family members should also avoid taking a relative with dementia to crowded places such as a mall or grocery store in order to prevent the loved-one from getting lost. If a dementia patient wanders at night, caregivers should restrict the person’s fluids two hours before bedtime to reduce the chances that the patient will have to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
This story was also reported by Ryan Bonner in the Sayville-Bayport Patch.