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Helping Families Deal With Wandering Behaviour: an Interview With David Rittenhouse

By February 23, 2014June 30th, 2016Moments


David Rittenhouse is Co-Founder and Co-Director of Project Lifesaver of Greater Victoria, a public safety program created to locate people with cognitive disabilities (Alzheimer’s and Autism) who are prone to dangerous wandering behaviour.

His mission is to develop solutions keep seniors and others living with chronic conditions safe while able to maintain their independence and dignity, and reducing the overall costs with long term care.

How do you help folks living with Alzheimers and dementia-related conditions?

I help provide family caregivers with information about technological options available for keeping their parents safe. I do this through Connected Independence provides unbiased information on monitoring and communication technology solutions that help keep mature adults at home safe, connected and independent.

As a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging (CPCA), I understand the processes of aging, and how these processes influence the health, social and financial considerations of mature Canadians.

What is “wandering”?

Wandering behavior is a common for people Alzheimer’s disease – at least 60% of people with Alzheimer’s have a tendency to wander.

The concern for those with dementia is that they have diminished mental capacity, and therefore can get into dangerous or life threatening situations. There have been many high profile cases of people or walking out into traffic, drowning, injury or even death due to exposure to the elements.

It’s also important to note there are many types of wandering behaviour:

●      aimless wandering

●      purposeful wandering

●      night-time wandering

●      industrious wandering

Currently 500,000 Canadian have Alzheimer’s, within the next 10 years it is estimated increase to 1 million to 1.3 million Canadians. With those statistics, the prevalence of wandering only increase.

At least 70% of seniors with dementia (including Alzheimer’s) are cared for in a private residential location.

Alzheimer’s can be very tough on family caregivers, especially those belonging to the “sandwich generation” who are raising children while caring for an aging parent still living in their own homes.

Balancing the person with dementia’s right to freedom and a caregivers responsibility to ensure their loved-one is safety at all times is a high wire act.

There are two sides to wandering: caregiver prevention and first responder location. Caregivers (either professional or family) are responsible for keeping them engaged and in a safe environment. When wandering occurs, then it becomes the legal responsibility of law enforcement to locate the wanderer.

What are ways that wandering is being managed right now? What do you do to help improve managing this behaviour?

The first step to help “wanderers” is to ensure they have been diagnosed by qualified medical professional.

Often wandering behaviour is caused by boredom. Ensuring the person can participate in appropriate physical and mental activities in a safe monitored environment is key.

In terms of wander location technology, there is public safety program called Project Lifesaver that uses electronic tracking technology to quickly locate someone with dementia.

In the past 15 years, 2800 lives have been saved of those enrolled in the program. Project Lifesaver is available Surrey, White Rock and Richmond and is administered by the Surrey Search and Rescue Society.

The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada website provides caregivers with valuable resources to better understand the causes or triggers for wandering: www.alzheimer.ca

When choosing a care provider for someone who wanders, what should be considered in terms of safeguards, processes, and technologies?

There are a number of questions you should be asking a provider:

For example, does the care company provide opportunities for their clients to go on supervised outings to parks or shopping? are there in-home activities?

In terms of home care services, choosing a company that specializes in dementia care is crucial, because the care requirements are different with dementia.

David Rittenhouse can be contacted at Connected Independence, a blog that provides practical information on products, smartphone apps and other resources that help seniors and their family caregivers with issues related to aging at home.