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{ } AGING with an Attitude Called to Wander By Dorie U. Sugay Dorie Sugay is the Executive Director of Visiting Angels, a company that provides living-assistance services to seniors and adults-in-need who wish to stay in their own home or receive one-on-one care within a facility. This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It was written independent of Visiting Angels. 76 “ANXIOUS, HE SEEKS JOY EVERYWHERE,AND JOY ELUDES HIM AND FLEES, A VAIN SHADOW THAT MOCKS HIS YEARNING AND FOR WHICH HE SAILS THE SEAS.” Song of the Wanderer, Jose Riza “Y earning” causes some people with dementia to wander. Visiting Angels’ first dementia client was a male in his 80’s. He lived in San Jose before moving to Gilroy. Our caregiver worked with him only 3 days a week. His daughter worked from home the other days and cared for him. It took time to realize that Charles had dementia — and loved to wander. One afternoon, realizing his daughter needed to relax, he assured her that he would be fine if she took a hot bath. What she didn’t know was that he had plans of his own. Charles was “going home to San Jose.” Charles’ daughter looked for him for an hour and finally called the police, then Visiting Angels. It just so happened that we remembered him speak fondl y of a small bar at the end of a country road. It was three miles away and we doubted he could walk that far — but, there he was, his thumb up, trying to hitch a ride to San Jose. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six in ten people with dementia wander. What causes them to wander? Fear and confusion are major culprits. Charles forgot that he had moved in with his daughter. Sometimes, when they feel or perceive a threat, they wander to get away. A very noisy environment, or a busy place like a shopping mall, could raise anxiety that they want to escape. Sadly, confusion can complicate simple matters — they walk to the mailbox, get distracted by a dog and can’t remember that they had crossed the street. The familiar neighborhood is now unfamiliar. Other causes for wandering include feeling a need to fulfill an obligation — they have to be at work, have to go to G M H T O D A Y M A G A Z I N E MAY / JUNE 2015 help the neighbor, or need to see a cousin. Or, perhaps they are called to be someplace, usually a residence they remember, or a workplace. Other behaviors that suggest a person with dementia is getting the call to wander or the wandering has started include: 1) going for a regular activity like a walk or drive, or even just to the bathroom or the garage and returning much later than usual, but unable to explain what took so long; 2) acting lost not just in a new or changed environment but in a familiar place; and 3) expressing a feeling of not belonging where they are. How can you help reduce the tendency to wander? Keep a balanced, settled” environment. Daily routines that provide structure are like anchors they can depend on. Make routines simple and consistent: same order of tasks. For example: if you put his bath towel on a chair when he bathes, don’t change that routine and hang the towel on a rack – it can confuse them. If you have a caregiver assist, make sure what that caregiver does with him, the family follows and vice versa. A picture of him with the person (s) he lives with, in the home he lives in, may remind him of where he is. As the dementia advances, even using the same words when giving instructions make it easier. Their brain works better with simplicity and consistency. Some wanderers will push you to your limits. What can you do? Some people go as far as using camouflage – painting the doors and door knobs the same color as the wall or even covering them with removable curtains or screens. You can use childproof knobs, have a bell or alarm that gmhtoday.com