FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | January 26, 2005
Alzheimer's Foundation Urges Steps to Prevent Wandering during Cold Weather
NEW YORK, NY—In Spotsylvania, VA, a 67-year-old man wandered from his home on New Year's Eve. In Oldham County, KY, a 77-year-old woman disappeared in subfreezing temperatures in mid-January without a jacket or shoes. And this past weekend, an 87-year-old resident of Watertown, CT left her home barefoot in the blizzard. All of them suffered from Alzheimer's disease.
As similar alerts regularly sound elsewhere as well, wandering among individuals with Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses is an issue of growing concern-especially, like now, when a cold snap grips much of the nation. It is estimated that as many as 60 percent of people with dementia will wander at some point, including from their homes and care facilities.
Older adults make up the largest proportion of individuals with Alzheimer's disease and are most vulnerable to hypothermia, or low internal body temperature that results from exposure to a cold environment. The brain disorder strikes an estimated one in ten Americans aged 65 and older, and nearly half of those 85 and older.
While some cases involving lost individuals with Alzheimer's disease end happily, others unfortunately do not.
How can the risk of wandering be minimized? Understanding the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and taking preventative steps can help, according to Eric J. Hall, chief executive officer of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA), New York. Symptoms typically include loss of memory and verbal skills, confusion and wandering patterns, all of which can jeopardize an individual's safety.
"With a progressive disease like this where an individual's behavior can change without a moment's notice, the best advice is simply this: Be prepared. It could save a lot of heartache." Hall said.
Among the major preventative steps: a person with dementia should not be left unsupervised; they should wear an identification bracelet or keep some form of identification in every jacket, pocketbook or other article; and they should be outfitted with a tracking device such as that offered by Project Lifesaver International, Chesapeake, VA.
Project Lifesaver equips individuals with state-of-the-art wristband transmitters that, using FM radio frequencies and batteries, emit a continuous signal 24 hours a day; public safety officials have mobile receivers that can receive the signal from a mile away on the ground and five miles in the air. Currently, 360 public safety agencies in 40 states participate in the rapid response program.
"In cold weather especially, someone with Alzheimer's disease is in great danger. They are not usually dressed for the weather, putting them at risk of hypothermia or other cold-related injuries. Because of this, it is critical that they be located quickly," said Chief Gene Saunders, chief executive officer of Project Lifesaver and an AFA board member.
Research shows that someone with dementia only stands a 50 percent chance of survival if they are not found within the first 24 hours.
Since it was founded in 1999, Project Lifesaver has undertaken nearly 1,100 rescues, bringing each individual home safely in an average of less than 30 minutes versus other searches that could take days. The Spotsylvania man, found unharmed in 13 minutes, was among them.
The AFA suggests taking these steps to control wandering:
- Do not leave individuals with Alzheimer's disease unsupervised.
- Have the person wear an identification bracelet or carry some form of identification in their coat pockets, tied to their shoestrings, etc.
- Sign up with a tracking program, such as Project Lifesaver International, which uses radio signals to quickly locate wanderers.
- Monitor an individual's wandering-frequency, duration, time of day, etc.-to detect patterns and possible causes.
- Ensure that the person is well fed, well hydrated and using the bathroom since wandering may occur to fulfill these basic needs.
- Consult with a physician to see if medications can help. Individuals who wander as a result of delusions or hallucinations may require psychotropic medications.
- Tell neighbors about the person's wandering behavior and make sure they have your phone number.
- Have a current photo readily available, and find out about leaving one on file at the police department.
- Provide recreational activities-physical exercise, music or puzzles, for example-to reduce boredom or lack of socialization that prompts wandering.
- Secure doors in a way that are difficult to open, and post signs such as "stop" or "do not enter."
- Add electronic chimes or doorbells so a caregiver is alerted if the individual attempts to exit.
- Reduce environmental stimuli like loud music or overcrowding that may spark this behavior.
- Provide familiar objects, such as family photographs, to an individual living in a long-term care facility to make it feel like home.
- Put away essential items, such as the person's coat, pocketbook or glasses, since some individuals will not go out without certain articles.
- Look for changes in patterns. For example, those who begin to wander after a prolonged period in a facility may suffer from a new medical, psychiatric or cognitive complication.
The Alzheimer's Foundation of America is a nonprofit organization that focuses on "together for care…in addition to cure" for individuals with Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses, and their families. Its services include a toll-free hotline-866-AFA-8484, counseling by certified social workers, educational materials, referrals to member organizations and other local resources nationwide, identification and search programs, and a free caregiver magazine, Vantage. For more information, call 866-AFA-8484 or visit www.alzfdn.org
Contact: Carol Steinberg