Wandering Caused By Alzheimer's Disease

As lovely as the Florida weather is during the winter, come summer, it gets hot. Real hot. In July and August, temperatures can easily surpass 90 degrees.

These high temperatures can put all Floridians at an increased risk of developing conditions like heat stroke or dehydration. But Florida’s seniors have to be extra careful. According to the National Institutes of Health, most people who die from hyperthermia, or abnormally high body temperature, are 50 years of age or older.

Most active adults can beat the heat by spending the hottest hours of the day in an air-conditioned room or next to the community swimming pool. But for Floridians living with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and the people who care for them, it’s not always that easy.

Alzheimer’s affects the brain in many ways. One common behavior of people living with the disease is wandering. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six in 10 people who have memory issues will wander.

During the hot summer months in Florida, this behavior can be especially unsafe. The confusion experienced by Floridians with Alzheimer’s may lead them to seek safety in a small space like a shed or a parked car. Even on a relatively cool summer day, a car parked in the sun can reach an interior temperature of 119 degrees, researchers at San Francisco State University found.

This same confusion might cause someone living with Alzheimer’s to reach for a bottle of a potentially toxic liquid, instead of water, to quench their thirst. They also might not understand that summer isn’t the best time to wear a coat or sweater, which puts them at increased risk of developing a heat-related condition.

High temperatures aren’t the only threat. Florida summers also bring regular thunderstorms. A person who is wandering might encounter rivers, lakes and ponds with higher-than-normal water levels. According to the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County, fatal drowning rates were highest among elderly adults age 65 and up in 2012 through 2014.

3 Tips to Keep Your Loved One Safe During the Hot Summer Months

If you’re caring for a Florida resident with Alzheimer’s, here are three tips to help you keep your loved one safe during the hot summer months.

#1 – Understand What Wandering Is

“Wandering may be unsafe, but it’s not typically viewed as a bad behavior,” said Julie Fernandez, Director of Team Development and Training at Sonata Senior Living. “Instead, it’s the person’s way of communicating that there’s an unmet need.”

Wandering might be your loved one’s way of telling you they’re too hot or too cold. They may be hungry or have to use the restroom. They might be trying to find someone or something from their past.

Sometimes, wandering is a way of communicating that the current environment is overstimulating. On the other end of the spectrum, a person who wanders might simply be bored.

“A lot of our residents have led very busy lives,” said Fernandez. “Sometimes, wandering is a way for them to try to follow their old routines. The brain tells us to move, and that’s what we want to do.”

#2 – Encourage Safe Wandering

Empowering your loved one to heed the brain’s desire to move can help ease feelings of frustration, anger and depression, said Fernandez. It may also help reduce aggressive behaviors.

But you want to keep your loved one safe and, especially during the hot summer months, indoors.

Start by removing all potential tripping hazards in the home. These include rugs, doormats and extension cords. Also, make sure all pathways are well-lit. There are numerous ways to prevent falls in home associated with dementia.

“Dementia can affect the parts of the brain associated with vision,” said Fernandez. “Falling is one of the most serious risks for someone with Alzheimer’s.”

To keep your loved one from going outside without your knowledge, install alarms on all exterior doors. You can also hang curtains over the doors to disguise them as windows. Fernandez said she’s also seen people camouflage their doors with paint and wallpaper.

“Sometimes even a big red stop sign will do the trick,” she said. “A person might not be able to read the letters, but they remember what the red octagon means.”

This isn’t allowed in professional memory care communities as it violates fire code. But in your private home, it may stop your loved one from venturing outdoors without you at their side.

#3 – Ensure a Safe Return

Because wandering is so common, many Florida Alzheimer’s organizations offer GPS bracelets that can help you locate your loved one instantly if they leave home without your knowledge. Other ID bracelets list the person’s name, current address and emergency contact information.

You can also register with the local police and emergency services and inform neighbors about your loved one’s condition.

“Some people may worry that they’re embarrassing their loved one,” said Fernandez. “But during the Florida summers, if your loved one lives at home and they wander and become lost, they would be at high risk of heat stroke.” A GPS bracelet provides a safety net and assurance that your loved one would be found quickly if they were to wander and become lost outdoors.

To learn more about managing behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia, schedule a visit at a Serenades memory care communities, schedule a visit →

A Practical Guide For Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors

Few people thrust into the role of caregiver have received any formal training on the confusing symptoms that can attend the onset of memory loss. Relying on experts in the field, our guide is a short yet comprehensive primer in managing behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.