Technology Aids in Finding Senior Loved Ones Who Wander From Long-Term Care Facilities

Protecting our senior loved ones with dementia, including our mothers and fathers, is incredibly important. One area in which we need to ensure our senior loved ones with dementia are protected is when they engage in wandering behavior. Dementia wandering is when an individual who suffers from dementia loses orientation and gets disoriented, straying away from familiar places. Technology is being developed to assist caregivers and other loved ones regarding a person with dementia who wanders.

Definition of Wandering

Wandering is also known as “wandering behavior” or “aimless wandering.” In its most extreme form, it can be seen as a repetitive movement pattern during which an individual with dementia goes back and forth from one location to another, often in a short period. Of great concern are situations in which a person with dementia leaves his or her protective environment and ends up lost or in a dangerous or precarious situation.

Facts and Stats About Wandering Seniors With Dementia

Before diving into our discussion of technology that is being used in some jurisdictions to assist in finding senior loved ones with dementia who wander from long-term care facilities, we take a moment to present some important facts and statistics. There are five key statistics to remember as you consider the need for technology to aid in finding wandering seniors.

  1. According to a study by Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, approximately 60 to 70 percent of dementia patients wander away from their homes and care centers at least once per year.
  2. The most common locations where seniors with dementia are found when they have gone missing include stores or outdoor spaces like parks, roads, or highways.
  3. Studies have found that 6 out of 10 cases of wandering result in injury or death for the wanderer. This grim reality underscores the need for caregivers to be aware of this danger and take necessary preventative measures. Moreover, this fact illustrates the importance of advancing technology that can be used to respond rapidly in tracking down wandering seniors with dementia.
  4. The likelihood that a senior with dementia will wander increases significantly if there are changes in routines or caregivers. It is also more likely if the individual has a history of wandering before diagnosis. In addition to underscoring the need for effective technology, this statistic illustrates the need for healthcare professionals, caregivers, and family members to assess this risk of wandering regularly.  
  5. According to recent research, more than half of all emergency department visits related to wandering involve individuals over the age of 75 years old. This is another troubling statistic emphasizing the need for specialized services and technology to help safely address wandering situations before they become matters of life and death.

Project Lifesaver: Peace of Mind for Families With a Loved One With Dementia

Project Lifesaver is an innovative technology that helps those with cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s or Autism, who are prone to wandering or getting lost. The system consists of a personal transmitter worn by the individual, which emits a unique radio frequency signal every second. With this signal, caregivers can locate the individual if they wander away.

The transmitter is waterproof and operates on batteries that last up to 30 days without needing to be replaced – however, caregivers are encouraged to check and replace batteries regularly just in case. It is designed for comfort and ease of use so that individuals can wear it on their wrist, ankle, or clothing, depending on their needs.

Project Lifesaver provides access to a network of rescue agencies specially trained to find individuals using the transmitter signals. If an individual goes missing, the caregiver contacts the local Project Lifesaver agency, which verifies information using the tracking system before sending out search and rescue teams equipped with special tracking receivers that allow them to pinpoint the exact location of the person wearing the transmitter within minutes.

So far, Project Lifesaver had helped save over 3,500 lives since its launch in 1999 – with many cases successfully finding someone within 30 minutes from when they wandered away. In addition, 93% of all rescues were made within one mile of where they were lost, making it highly effective at helping people get back home quickly and safely. Furthermore, there have been many instances where individuals have suffered medical difficulties due to wandering too far away from home. Project Lifesaver’s technology has proven essential in saving their lives too.

A great advantage of this technology is its simplicity and reliability. There is no need for expensive monitoring equipment as all it requires is a small battery-powered device worn by an individual which emits a radio frequency signal every second. As an aside, this makes it highly accurate and cost-effective.

In addition, due to its non-invasive nature, it’s easy for caregivers or family members to utilize. This means that a quick response can occur when someone goes missing. There is no need to underate some complicated setup processes. In addition, there are no ongoing maintenance requirements like traditional tracking systems often require. In the final analysis, Project Lifesaver’s wanderer technology is particularly useful in protecting those living independently and in care homes prone to wandering unsupervised.

Three Common Reasons for Wandering

When it comes to a senior parent or other loved one with dementia, there are several underlying reasons for this. There are three more commonplace reasons underpinning wandering by a person with a dementia diagnosis:

  • Motivation to satisfy a perceived basic need
  • Instinctive behavior
  • Connect with something or someone familiar 

First, when a person with dementia wanders, they may simply be trying to satisfy a basic human need, such as food or shelter. When a person has dementia, they often become confused and disoriented due to changes in their cognitive functioning, making them unable to remember where they had previously found what they need. For instance, if the individual becomes hungry but has forgotten where they normally get food, they may wander in search of sustenance. Sometimes, the person might even search for their home if they have forgotten where it is located.

Second, people with dementia might also wander out of instinctive behavior in an attempt to return to familiar places and surroundings. This type of wandering could include going back and forth between two familiar locations, like their home and a relative’s house. People dealing with memory loss can become overwhelmed when placed in unfamiliar settings and environments that present too many unknown elements for them to process at once; this is why having access to places that feel safe and secure act as anchors that provide comfort during periods of distress.

Third, another potential cause of wandering by those suffering from dementia could be an attempt to reunite with someone or something specific. It is rather common for those afflicted with memory loss-related conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia to become fixated on a certain activity or person lost due to these afflictions. This type of fixation might lead them away from the safety of their home to find whatever or whomever it is that they are looking for in their minds.