The Dementia Epidemic: Preventing wandering

By KBJR News 1

November 21, 2013 Updated Nov 21, 2013 at 10:10 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - As the baby boomer generation ages and people continue to live longer, a growing problem is alive and well too. It has been called the dementia epidemic.

The Alzheimer's Association estimates that there are five million people over age 65 in the U.S. with Alzheimers. By 2025, they estimate that number will grow to 7.1 million, a 40 percent increase.

With the rise come concerns for keeping people safe, especially when the condition can lead to unpredictable wandering.

Such is the case with Dale Gerard, 74.

In July, Gerard left the Wesley residence, an assisted living facility in Duluth. She was last seen boarding a bus headed east. Her family says she was wearing a wander guard, which was supposed to sound an alarm when she left the living facility, but those at the Wesley residence say it never sounded.

"Four months [since she was last seen]. Long time and not one sighting of her at all. Not one sighting," said Gerard's daughter-in-law, Maria Gerard, "And that's the hard part. How can somebody that age, totally disappear? There's got to be a better way of tracking dementia patients."

A better way might be found at Ecumen Lakeshore in Duluth.

"Right now it's running through our phone line," said Ecumen Lakeshore Memory Care Director, Rita Walker, as she installed one of the facility's Quiet Care systems.

The Quiet Care monitoring system was installed at Ecumen seven years ago. In addition to secured doors and programming at the facility, it helps monitor people in memory care by tracking motion in their rooms. Without capturing video or audio of the rooms, it sends updates of activity to caregivers.

The system tracks when normal routines get off track, giving caregivers a heads up when a person might be sick. Just as important, it tracks when they leave.

"Not that technology can take the place of a caregiver or an individual," said Walker, "But it can certainly enhance what we do for an individual."

Through locked doors at Egewood Vista in Hermantwon, you'll find what they say is their best defense to a dementia patient's wandering.

"Many of them wander because they don't think they belong where they are. They have other places to go," explained licensed social worker for Edgewood, Susan Muehlberger, "They feel that they have a role to play. So, they're looking for that role."

Activities and programming at Edgewood help give residents that role, along with stations set up throughout the memory care unit filled with things the residents are interested in.

"You can get them diverted and talking about those things and help divert them away from wanting to have to leave," said Muehlberger.

Char Johnson with Home Instead Senior Care says that preventing loved ones from walking away can be done by creating what's called a visual cliff.

"As people progress in the disease, that visual cliff will make a shiny floor look like water, but it will also make a black rug maybe look like a hole or something you don't necessarily want to walk on," said Johnson.

Hiding door knobs with plants while disguising doors can be simple solutions.

Meanwhile, the family of Dale Gerard continues to search for her. If you have any information about Gerard's whereabouts, contact Duluth police.

Written for the web by Jennifer Austin.