(WYTV) – The winter weather brings to light the issue of people with Alzheimer’s disease wandering away from their homes.
Alzheimer’s Association of Greater East Ohio Executive Director Cheryl Kanetsky says the issue is dangerous year round , but with these cold temperatures, it is even more dire in the winter.
“It has to do around understanding the environment. For someone with Alzheimer’s, they have a difficult time understanding the routine of the day, sometimes feeling comfortable in their own home even. And so this feeling of needing to find and search becomes very engrained in what they’re thinking about,” said Kanetsky.
Winter weather makes wandering all the more dangerous. People with Alzheimer’s could leave their home without coats or other winter gear, shortening the time that caregivers have to find them.
Kanetsky says that wandering occurs in six out of 10 people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
With how common this issue is, the Alzheimer’s Association has advice to help caregivers limit wandering.
Kanetsky says caregivers should make modifications to the house so it’s more difficult to leave, paying special attention to door knobs.
Second, she says everyone with Alzheimer’s should be registered in the association’s safe return program. That way, the person would have a wristband with a phone number on it in case they’re found outside the home.
If your loved one has a tendency to wander, Kanetsky says you should warn your local police department. That way, the police will have an understanding of the situation in case an officer or someone in the community spots them wandering.
You should also look for possible triggers.
Sometimes the time of day or certain situations in the home will cause someone with Alzheimer’s to think they should leave.
Kanetsky tells me some people are more likely to wander in the winter than other times of year. She says the combination of less sunlight and a desire to get fresh air likely cause that.
Even if you don’t care for someone with Alzheimer’s yourself, you could be part of the solution.
“If you see someone and it doesn’t look quite right, it probably isn’t. And you could be saving a life just by taking a few minutes to intervene. There isn’t a lot of time when somebody leaves the house when they don’t have coats and boots on and especially if they’re not sure where they’re going, there’s a lot of tragedy that happens with individuals who have Alzheimer’s that wander particularly in the winter,” said Kanetsky.
Kanetsky suggests looking to see if the person is wearing a wristband. Often times, caregivers will place a band with a phone number on the person’s wrist in case they wander off.
If there’s not a wristband, you can call the local police department, or at least try and help the person stay warm.
It may be outside of people’s comfort zone to stop and try and help, but it could make all the difference for one of the many families who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s across the Valley.
Caregivers can contact the Alzheimer’s Association at their helpline at 800-272-3900. Counselors are available 24/7, 365 days a year, to give advice to your specific circumstances.