Should I automatically be concerned about wandering when Alzheimer’s is diagnosed?

Wandering isn’t a universal symptom of Alzheimer’s but it definitely can be a concern. Unfortunately, you won’t know if your loved one is a wanderer until he or she wanders for the first time. Each person with dementia travels through this journey at his or her own pace.

Upon diagnosis of the disease, immediately register your loved one in the “Safe Return” program with the Alzheimer’s Association. Contact the national organization (http://www.alz.org) or your local Alzheimer’s Association for information about the program and how to enroll.

When you register, you will choose the form of jewelry you would like your loved one to wear. The jewelry (a bracelet, pendant or other item) has the Alzheimer’s Association logo on the front and the wearer’s identification number on the back. Most people choose the bracelet because it can be worn with, or like, a watch. Even individuals who did not wear jewelry in the past typically will agree to wear a bracelet.

Many caregivers have overcome a loved one’s suspicions or reluctance about wearing this special jewelry by ordering a second piece for themselves. When the caregiver is seen wearing it, the patient often drops resistance.

It pays to plan ahead for a variety of situations. Talking with other caregivers at support groups about strategies, devices and interventions that have worked for them is a sound advice. You also should browse electronics stores to what the market has to offer. (The Alzehimer’s Store [http://www.alzstore.com] is a good place to look.) There are also agencies you can hire. They will assess your home and the patient’s living environment and make recommendations about them.

Waste no time when you suspect you might have a wanderer. At the first indication, put a baby monitor in the bedroom at night so you can hear if and when your loved one gets up. Also, install safety devices in your home. And by all means, inform your neighbors. Of course, also talk with your physician about treatment for this symptom.

When your loved one does wander, call 911 immediately. Many police departments give their officers special education about Alzheimer’s. This can include training officers how best to deal with wandering and other troublesome situations.

Another way to prepare is to read an excellent book by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins, “The 36-hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease, Related Dementing Illnesses, and Memory Loss in Later Life.” It is both informative and enlightening about the various stages of the disease and what you might encounter.