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Stopping the Alzheimer's Patient From Leaving the House

Suggestions to keep the Alzheimer's patient from wandering away.

The biggest fear that most caregivers have is how to prevent their loved one from leaving the house, unsupervised, and wandering away.

  • Place locks on exit doors high or low on the door out of direct sight. Consider double locks that require a key. Keep a key for yourself and hide one near the door for emergency exit purposes.
  • Use loosely fitting doorknob covers so that the cover turns instead of the actual knob. Due to the potential hazard they could cause if an emergency exit is needed, locked doors and doorknob covers should be used only when a caregiver is present.
  • Install safety devices found in hardware stores to limit the distance that windows can be opened.
  • If possible, secure the yard with fencing and a locked gate. Use door alarms such as loose bells above the door or devices that ring when the doorknob is touched or the door is opened. 
  • Avoid medicating the person to prevent them from walking away. Doses that are sufficiently powerful to stop someone from 'wandering' can cause drowsiness, increase confusion and possibly cause incontinence.
  • Some caregivers have found that placing a mirror in the hall, or fixing a bead curtain across the front door, can deter the person from leaving. However, this approach may be confusing or distressing for the person with Alzheimer's.
  • Whenever possible, the patient should sleep on the lower level. Nighttime presents a variety of risks.

Limiting the Risks of Wandering Away with Alzheimer's

    • Do not leave a person with Alzheimer's disease who has a history of wandering unattended.
    • If the person is determined to leave, try not to confront them as this could be upsetting. Try to accompany them a little way and then divert their attention so that you both return.
    • Make sure the person carries some form of identification or the name and phone number of someone who can be contacted if they get lost. You could sew this into a jacket or a handbag so that it is not easily removed. Obtain a medical identification bracelet for the person with AD with the words "memory loss" inscribed along with an emergency telephone number. Place the bracelet on the person's dominant hand to limit the possibility of removal, or solder the bracelet closed. Check with the local Alzheimer's Association about the Safe Return program.
    • Tell local shopkeepers and neighbors about the person's Alzheimer's - they may offer to keep a look out.
    • If the person is in day care, respite residential care or long term care, tell the staff about their walking habits and ask about the policy of the home.
    • If the person does disappear, try not to panic.
    • If you are unable to find them, tell the local police. Keep a recent photograph, to help the police identify them.
    • When the person returns, try not to scold them or show them that you are worried. If they got lost, they may be feeling anxious themselves. Reassure them, and quickly get them back into a familiar routine.
    • Once the situation is resolved, try to relax. Phone a family member or friend and talk about your feelings. Remember that this type of behavior is likely to be a phase.

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Safe Return Program

The Alzheimer's Association's Safe Return program is designed to help identify people who wander and return them to their caregiver. Caregivers who pay a $40 registration fee receive:

  • An identification bracelet
  • Name labels for clothing
  • Identification cards for wallet or purse
  • Registration in a national database with emergency contact information
  • A 24-hour toll-free number to report someone who is lost

You can register someone by filling out a form online at the Alzheimer's Association's Web page or by calling (888) 572-8566.

Sources:

  • National Institute on Aging, Home Safety for People with Alzheimer's Disease, Oct. 2007
  • Wisconsin Bureau of Aging and Long Term Care Resources, Department of Health and Family Services, How to Succeed: Caregiving Strategies That Provide Answers for Common Behavior Themes, July 2003.

next: Helping Someone With Alzheimer's

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2008, December 21). Stopping the Alzheimer's Patient From Leaving the House, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/alzheimers/behaviors/wandering-leaving-house

Last Updated: July 24, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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