Walking about: Tips for carers
Here are some tips about things you can do if you're caring for a person with dementia who walks about.
Limiting the risk
- If the person’s home has a garden, you could look for ways to make it safe for them to walk around – for example by making sure there are no obstacles on the ground and that the grass is not overgrown. To make the experience more enjoyable, you could create a circular path with points of interest, such as birdfeeders and garden ornaments.
- Try to find out whether there are local volunteer schemes in your area that help people with dementia to return home if they walk about. For example Neighbourhood Return is a scheme that notifies local volunteers who can help to look for a person who has got lost. Contact your local council for more information about the scheme and to see whether it operates in your area.
- If the person you are caring for is determined to leave their home, try not to argue with them, as this could be upsetting. Instead try to find out where they want to go, and help them put on appropriate clothing if necessary (for example, outdoor shoes and a coat) and accompany them. You can then try to divert their attention so that you can both return home safely.
- Make sure the person carries some identification or the name and phone number of someone who can be contacted if they get lost. You could sew this information onto a jacket or handbag so that it is not easily removed. Or the person may find it useful to carry one of Alzheimer’s Society’s Helpcards to show other people. You could also get them an identification bracelet, like those provided by MedicAlert.
- If the person uses a mobile phone, make sure some ‘in case of emergency’ (ICE) numbers are saved and easily accessible – for example the phone number of their primary carer. If the mobile phone is switched on, it may also be possible to trace the person if they go missing.
- You can also think about getting the person a specialist tracking device that uses GPS to locate where they are. However, you will need to think about the relevant ethical questions such as getting the person’s consent.
- If you know and trust local shopkeepers and neighbours, consider sensitively telling them that the person has dementia and giving them your contact details. Ask them to call you if they see the person walking about. You should get the person’s consent to tell other people that they have dementia, if they are able to give it. If the person can’t give their consent, only disclose their diagnosis if you think it is in the person’s best interests.
- If the person is in day care, respite residential care or long-term care, tell the staff about their tendency to walk about. You can also ask about the policy on safe walking and care for residents who are prone to walk about.
If the person disappears
- Try to stay calm.
- If you can’t find the person, tell the local police. Keep a recent photograph of the person to help the police identify them. Consider taking part in the Herbert Protocol – a national scheme that encourages carers to compile useful information that can be used if a vulnerable person later goes missing. The Herbert Protocol is used by about 70% of police services across England and Wales and an online version of the Protocol is being considered. Contact your local police station for more information.
- Think of places the person likes or has visited a lot in the past as they may have gone there. For example, they might have gone to places they previously lived or worked, or places where they have enjoyed spending time.
- Consider using social media to ask people in the local area to contact you if they see the person. You might find it useful to post to local area groups and missing persons groups. However, think very carefully about which groups you post to and how much information you decide to share online – for example, the person you are caring for may not want other people to know that they have dementia.
- When the person returns, try not to react angrily or criticise them. If they were lost, they may be feeling anxious. Reassure them, and get them back into a familiar routine.
- After the situation is resolved, try to give yourself time and space to relax. You may find it helpful to talk to a family member, a friend or a professional.
Looking after yourself
If you are caring for a person who often walks about, it is very important that you also look after your own wellbeing. Try to find ways to help you cope with the emotions you are feeling. For example, talking to friends and family members about any worries you have can be very helpful. Talk to them about how they can help and support you.
You may find it useful to contact the Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Helpline for emotional support, advice and information – 0330 222 1122.
You can also connect and share stories with other people who are caring for a person who walks about. You might want to do this through Alzheimer’s Society’s online community, Dementia Talking Point. You can join discussions on walking about and share your own experiences. Talking Point is free and is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.