Taking a leisurely stroll can be a relaxing and healthy pastime, especially for seniors who might not otherwise get too much exercise. Even doctors recommend regular walks to breathe some fresh air and to keep in shape. However, no matter how encouraged or healthy an activity might be, if a senior wanders off without a word on a regular basis – perhaps even getting lost at times – then relatives will be frantic with worry and desperate to prevent it from happening. But how do you go about this, though?
Reasons for the Behavior
Obvious as it may seem, some people simply like to take walks. A stubborn, independent loved one might even wander off in secret because they know that they would be otherwise discouraged from doing so by an overprotective family. While worrying is understandable, it is inadvisable to stop people from doing as they wish unless there is a good reason to be cautious, such as if the person can easily become disoriented or lost while out alone. If overly concerned, the family can always attempt to compromise and have the senior take additional safety measures that don’t limit their freedom.
In other cases, underlying reasons for taking off unannounced may be more troublesome in nature than just a defiant attitude. There are medical conditions that can make people prone to aimless wandering, such as Down syndrome or diseases with symptoms of dementia. In such cases, concern is certainly warranted. The person often doesn’t really know why they wandered off in the first place, but the behavior is known to stem from the sense of disorientation and forgetfulness that sufferers of such conditions experience. To take the right preventative measures, it is important to figure out what triggers the urge to wander.
Some elderly people suffering from dementia wander simply because they become restless or bored, and only later do they become confused about their surroundings. In such cases, try to figure out if you can narrow down the timing for this behavior – such as after meals – and be sure to keep the senior busy to stop the idea from forming. Family should offer to take regular walks with their loved one as well.
When in pain or discomfort, people will often attempt ‘walking it off’. While such behavior is quite normal, when it comes to seniors that tend to get lost and disoriented it can actually be dangerous. However, since there the urge is not to go somewhere specific, it could be a bit easier to keep the senior safe. Figure out if the discomfort can be alleviated and, if not, why and when it happens; acid reflux is a common cause, for example. Also, having a fenced-off yard area to walk around in or locking the doors in such a way that the elderly can’t open them could help, though the latter option is not at all ideal since it would make them feel like prisoners or children.
Technology to the Rescue
Other times the senior may think that they need to go somewhere or will be searching for something, often forgetting what it was after leaving. Since such behavior can be unpredictable, it is difficult to prevent. Locking the door is not without risk since the elderly will be unable to get out in an emergency. While not common, a great solution is to install alarm devices or in-home activity sensors that some medical alert companies, like Medical Guardian, offer to allow caretakers to unobtrusively monitor the activities of seniors. These will record whenever a door is opened, for example, to give an idea of when the elderly person may have left the building.
Finding a Lost Senior
There are more than a few modern gadgets that can help families with finding a loved one that has wandered off. GPS trackers that can be worn as jewelry, tiny devices that can be sewn into clothes or shoes, or radio signal transmitters are all options to consider. The most recommended solution, however, is to get a medical alert system for the senior, since such emergency buttons can come with built-in GPS and fall detection to provide the sort of well-rounded protection that a specialized device can’t hope to match.
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