November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. An estimated 5.8 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer’s — and the figure is expected to climb to 13.8 million by 2050 if no medical breakthroughs are made.
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. It’s the most common cause of dementia among older adults. Occasionally forgetting a name or place as one ages can happen, but Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging.
Signs that memory loss may not be a normal part of aging and may be due to Alzheimer’s include:
- A change in mood and personality
- Regularly getting lost in familiar places
- Repeating questions and comments
- Difficulty managing bills and money
- Struggle to complete normal daily tasks
- Displaying poor judgment
- A decline in personal hygiene
- Losing or misplacing items in odd places
- Not recognizing loved ones
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only major cause of death that’s still on the rise. That’s because there are no effective treatments or cures that can stop or slow down the disease. On average, people with Alzheimer’s live between three and 11 years after diagnosis.
Alzheimer’s doesn’t kill — complications from the disease are what lead to death. Pneumonia is a common cause of death because impaired swallowing allows food or drinks to enter the lungs. Other common causes of death include falls, dehydration and malnutrition. Seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s need extra care, and the use of safety products for Alzheimer patients can minimize their risk of injury.
Alzheimer’s and the Risks of Wandering
Wandering is one of the most dangerous behaviors among individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. According to Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., President and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America: “Approximately 60 percent of people with Alzheimer’s/dementia wander,” he says. “Someone with Alzheimer’s disease who wanders may be disoriented, unable to remember how to get back home or know how, or who, to call for help.”
Keeping a senior safe who has the urge to wander off is a full-time job, especially if the senior is anxious or in the later stages of dementia. Douglas W. Scharre MD, CMD, FAAN, Director at the Center for Cognitive and Memory Disorders at Ohio State University explains, “These patients feel they want to leave or ‘go home’ or may be looking for a parent or loved one — even if they are already home.”
Tips to Help Prevent Wandering
Besides the use of wandering safety products that can help you keep your loved one safe, knowing your senior well can minimize the risk of wandering. There are some simple changes you can make to prevent a loved one from wandering off and getting lost: Identify when the wandering is most likely to occur. Plan activities like games, crafts or exercise for that time that keep the individual distracted and engaged.
- Ask why they want to leave. The person may not realize they’re home, may be searching for a loved one or believe they must go to work. Communicating with them and reassuring them may help clear up the confusion and help them settle down.
- Provide supervision. Having someone that can watch over them can stop them from wandering off. Helping them with basic needs like hunger or thirst may alleviate their need to wander.
- Engage neighbors and loved ones. Ask neighbors, friends and family to contact you if they see your loved one out alone. Lakelyn Hogan, Gerontologist and Caregiver Advocate with Home Instead Senior Care, recommends the free tool, Missing Senior NetworkSM, “that immediately notifies your network of family, friends and businesses should a loved one become lost due to wandering.”
- Keep a phone list of places the individual normally frequents or wanders to. Call these places right away if the individual has gone missing.
Wearable Safety Products to Help Monitor Loved Ones
It’s not always possible to stop a loved one with Alzheimer’s from wandering. One of the most effective ways to keep them safe is by monitoring their activity and whereabouts through the use of a wearable device. These safety products for Alzheimer patients transmit their location in real-time so you can see where your loved one is — and find them quickly. Here are five location devices/wearables to consider:
1. Moxee Signal
Moxee Signal is a compact device with built-in 4G LTE that integrates with Moxee’s professional monitoring services. If a user gets lost or needs help, they can check in, send their location and communicate through the two-way receiver. You can track a loved one’s movements through the smartphone app and set alerts if they wander past a certain area.
Similar to Moxee Signal but designed for Alzheimer’s patients, AngelSense provides caregivers a detailed view of a loved one’s real-time comings and goings through the smartphone app. The device is attached to a loved one’s clothing and can only be removed by the caregiver. Instant alerts notify a caregiver if their loved one is in an unfamiliar place. Caregivers can also listen in to hear what’s happening or to communicate.
3. Project Lifesaver
Seniors enrolled in Project Lifesaver are given a personal transmitter that’s worn around their ankle. If a caregiver finds they’ve wandered, they call a local Project Lifesaver agency and a trained team will respond accordingly. The website states that, “Recovery times average 30 minutes and many who wander are found within a few miles of their home.”
4. iTraq Nano
The iTraq Nano is promoted as “the world’s smallest all-in-one tracking device”. The device is water and dust resistant, can be charged wirelessly and has a two-month battery life. It can track location globally and has an SOS button that will send an alert to friends and family with their loved one’s exact location. The device also includes a motion or fall sensor to send an alert if a fall is detected.
5. Medical Alert Systems
Medical alert devices are monitored 24/7 by professionals to offer caregivers peace of mind — and a little break sometimes. They also allow the patient more freedom around the house or when they’re out and about, with someone on standby and ready to send help should something go wrong. Read our comprehensive review of the best medical alert systems on the market to learn more about why they’re such a valuable tool for household members with Alzheimer’s or impaired mobility.
The best medical alert devices work in a few ways:
- Fall detection. Some medical alert systems can detect when someone has fallen while others come with a panic button remote that a senior can easily push to activate an emergency assistance protocol.
- Wandering prevention. Most medical alert systems come with a small remote device with a built-in GPS to track a person’s movements. A safety perimeter can be set. If the loved one wanders outside the set area, the device is triggered and alerts the monitoring service (and certain loved ones) that the person has left the safety area.
- Emergency management. Some medical alert companies provide two-way audio devices so a loved one can communicate their medical or non-medical emergency to the monitoring professional. The professional can then stay with the individual and verbally guide or assure them until emergency services arrives.
How to Create Alzheimer’s-Friendly Environments
Besides safety products for Alzheimer patients, home safety should also be a top priority to keep loved ones suffering from dementia from falling or hurting themselves. Here are some things you can do to keep their surroundings safe:
- Install safety bars in the shower area and near the toilet to offer a loved one extra support.
- Add an anti-skid bath or shower mat to keep wet surfaces from becoming dangerously slippery.
- Remove decorative rugs and mats from the bathroom floor that can be easily tripped over.
- Remove the bathroom lock so you can act fast if your loved one falls.
- Make sure the kitchen is brightly lit.
- Install a hidden gas valve or circuit breaker on or near your stove so a person with dementia cannot turn it on.
- If it isn’t possible, remove the stove’s knobs or choose a stove that has an auto shut-off feature.
- Declutter the room to minimize tripping hazards.
- Install nightlights so your loved one can navigate easier at night.
- Adjust their bed’s height so their hips are perpendicular to their knees when sitting and their feet touch the floor, so they can sit down and stand up easily.
- Don’t use portable space heaters.
- Electric blankets or heating pads are not recommended to sleep with.
- Make sure their favorite chair or sofa is sturdy and the ideal height for standing up and sitting down easily.
- Provide plenty of lighting.
- Mark large sliding glass doors and windows with decals to prevent a senior from walking into them.
- Don’t leave your loved one unattended while enjoying the fireplace.
Other safety precautions
- Make sure smoke alarms are properly working.
- Keep extension cords and cables organized and away from areas a senior can trip on them.
- Nightlights should be installed in hallways and rooms a loved one may use at night.