The Challenge of Wanderers: What Should Caregivers Do?
Dementia is an extremely hard disease to deal with, and not just for the person suffering from it directly, but also for their caregivers. Friends and family may watch their loved one slip away right before their eyes, or take on the laborious role of serving as caregiver for someone with dementia. Whether it be a parent, grandparent, or friend, seeing someone succumb to dementia can be a heartbreaking experience.
Dementia is the umbrella term for cognitive disorders that affect functions such as memory, speech, and reasoning and judgment. The most common sub-type of dementia is Alzheimer’s, which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all types of dementia. Alzheimer’s alone affects 5 million Americans. The second most common type of dementia is vascular dementia, in which someone experiences a reduced blood flow to the brain. Vascular dementia is known as a common occurrence after a stroke. Other forms of dementia could include Lewy bodies dementia and from conditions such as Parkinson's disease. Though all of these diseases are different in their origins and symptoms, they all share the cognitive difficulties that are characterized as dementia.
Memory and other general cognitive abilities are by far the most common and most well known symptoms of dementia. They reduce someone’s ability to perform their daily routine, oftentimes requiring around the clock care as the disease progresses into its later stages. The role of caregiver often falls on family members or loved ones of the person who has dementia. It is an incredible commitment that can be both mentally and physically draining. Caregivers for someone with dementia are more likely to report emotional and financial difficulties. Caregiver stress, which presents with depression-like symptoms including anxiety, exhaustion and emotional withdrawal, is extremely common for Alzheimer’s caregivers.
The Wandering Problem
There is a good reason for the caregiver stress rate for Alzheimer’s to be higher than for caregivers of elderly people without dementia. In addition to the emotional toll of seeing your loved one struggle with memory and cognition, there are other factors that can result from the cognitive difficulties. Caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s requires constant vigilance.
One big problem facing the dementia community is wandering. According to the Alzheimer’s association, 60% of people with dementia will wander at some point. Someone may wander for a variety of reasons, including boredom, restlessness, or confusion. The inclination to wander may also be a remnant of an old habit or routine, such as an evening stroll around the neighborhood or nightly visits to a friend’s house.
It’s very difficult to predict when someone will choose to wander. So, it’s important for caregivers, whether that be a family member or employee at a caregiving facility, to stay very alert of someone with dementia’s whereabouts and take precautions to try to prevent them from wandering away undetected.