Spooky forest photo by Unsplash
Are you familiar with the term “elopement” or “wandering”? These two interchangeable terms are every parent and caregiver’s worst horror come to life. You dread the idea that your loved one may leave the home and potentially come to harm.
When children elope, it’s obvious they may need assistance if they don’t have an adult with them. People tend to help kids right away with no reservations!
But when adults elope, that’s an entirely different story!
If an adult leaves the home and appears to be in good health, no one blinks an eye. It’s totally normal to see a person out and about running errands or taking a leisure walk. Why would you check on someone’s welfare if they look okay?
That’s the dangerous part about people with memory loss eloping from home. You typically have no idea that they need help unless you have a conversation with them or see them physically struggling. Sign up to receive silver alerts, people!
Older gentleman wearing hat, coat, and necktie. Photo by Unsplash
My family experienced what it’s like to help a loved one with elopement. Let me tell you about the first time we realized Grandpa was at risk! When he had a minor cognitive condition in his late eighties, Grandpa took a swim class at the local community center. One day, the class was canceled. Instead of calling my mother for a ride home, Grandpa decided to walk three miles home on a hot summer day.
Not the best idea for a man with a history of heart problems!
There was even a firetruck that pulled over to talk to Grandpa to make sure he was okay. Somehow, he convinced them he was completely fine and eventually made it back home safely. Sadly, we realized that Grandpa’s reasoning skills were not fully intact any longer. We were grateful Grandpa’s long term memory was working well enough for him to find his way home! Not everyone is as lucky as that!
As my grandfather’s memory loss progressed, we started to notice that the ability for him to find his way home was disappearing. He also started to try and leave the house during the night without notifying anybody. Usually, his attempts to elope were related to hallucinations about his time spent as a soldier in Germany during World War II. Elopement was a way for him to escape German bombs or becoming a prisoner of war.
To be totally honest, Grandpa tried to leave the house in the nude several times. If he was successful, that would’ve been a dead ringer call to action for any passerby to help!
We were terrified of Grandpa’s ability to sneak out when everyone was sleeping. We didn’t want him to fall and get hurt or freeze outside during the winter. I hate to say it, but our absolute worst fear was finding Grandpa dead in the woods. We were not about to allow that to happen!
My parents were living with Grandpa at the time to provide care and help him live at home as long as possible. Since my mom was the primary caregiver, I strongly relied on her to tell me what changes she felt comfortable making to prevent Grandpa from eloping. I needed to find strategies that worked for her, Dad, and Grandpa.
(Otherwise, I’d be wasting my time suggesting things for my Mom to try that she wasn’t going to do. That’s how I roll with all caregivers I work with by the way!)
YI security camera. Amazon
Mom decided that the she wanted to try a video monitoring system and a sound system that alerted her whenever a door opened in the house. We placed one video camera in the bedroom showing Grandpa’s bed and another one in the living room.
Fortunately, the video cameras and door alerts worked out well! We didn’t have to make any more adjustments to the home, but we needed to make some changes to what caused Grandpa to elope in the first place.
We noticed that Grandpa became more agitated if he watched the news or had a particularly sedentary day. Grandpa would perseverate or fixate on “the war” hours after watching a nightly newscast. Sometimes Grandpa would start to cry while remembering specific details about the war or become defiant when we helped him with going to the bathroom or getting ready for bed.
Basically, the man wasn’t tired enough to sleep well and his brain couldn’t help but think about war nonstop.
We found that watching less TV and doing more activities during the day helped Grandpa sleep better at night. I would ask Grandpa to help put away dishes or take clean clothes to his room. He liked listening to Cuban jazz and sorting through his belongings in his bedroom, even if he already went through his stuff 100 times. He also went to “The Club”, an adult day center, three times a week to visit with other people and do fun activities.
There’s a lot of different techniques that work to deter your loved ones from eloping! You don’t have to solely rely on medicine to zonk out Grandpa so he doesn’t run away!
Couple looking at nature. Photo by Unsplash
Making simple changes to the home and daily routine will make a difference in your loved one’s attempts to elope. Heck, sometimes even putting up a stop sign at the door is enough to deter your loved one from eloping! Other times people do best with wander guard technology that involves a GPS locator. It really helps when you include a professional (cough cough, like me) to help you in determining what changes will make the most difference.
Everyone is unique and different. The techniques that worked for my Grandpa may not work for your loved one! That’s normal and okay! We can figure out your specific situation!
The Alzheimer’s Association has a fantastic article on wandering that you can start with by clicking HERE. Just a side note, I love the Alzheimer’s Association so much! They have great, free information on so many more topics for caregivers taking care of friends and family with dementia. If you haven’t perused their website, you better get over there! Share this with everyone you know!
I hope you never experience what it’s like to stop your loved one from eloping. But if you do, you’re not alone! There are ways to keep your family safe and prevent unwanted outcomes!