Freezing temperatures don’t always deter people with dementia from going out on their own. So if you’re worried that a person you care about might go missing in cold weather, here’s a few ways to keep them safe

Stories about people with dementia going missing are not new. Nor are they rare. The nature of the condition significantly increases the likelihood of a person getting lost when they’re out and about. But in freezing weather conditions, the consequences of becoming disorientated or confused can quickly become be disastrous.

So how can you help a loved one to stay safe, without severely limiting their personal freedom?

Here’s a few tips worth considering:

Be prepared
Around 60 per cent of people with dementia are prone to ‘wandering’ (though this term is no longer considered accurate, since most of the time a person with dementia starts out knowing exactly where they want to go…then run into difficulties along the way). So it makes sense to have a plan in place, should the worst happen. For example, have you spoken to their neighbours? Do the neighbours have your contact details – and do you have theirs? What about ID? Carrying something in a wallet, purse isn’t always enough (they could leave home without it). Instead, consider a pendant, a bracelet, or something sewn into their clothes with their name and address and your telephone number. This could save valuable time if they do go missing.

Keep the home secure
It might sound obvious, but making sure windows and doors are secured could deter a loved one with dementia from venturing out. You could also try keeping outdoor ‘cues’ such as umbrellas, walking shoes, heavy coats and shopping bags out of sight. A curtain over the front door might also help to disguise the door itself (if they can’t see it easily, they might forget about it) and also act as a draft excluder.

Distract, distract, distract
Generally speaking, if a person with dementia feels stimulated and absorbed by a particular task or a favourite hobby, they’re more likely to stay put, especially if they know that whatever they’re doing has a useful purpose. For example, if they’re helping with housework, remind them how grateful you are for the help and what the next task is going to be. If they’re doing something creative, give plenty thoughtful feedback. The calmer and more content they feel, the less need they will have to go out.

Ask why
There are many reasons why people with dementia decide they want to get out of the house. Sometimes they simply want a bit of fresh air and exercise, especially if it’s always been a part of their life. If a walk or shopping trip was part of their daily routine, it makes sense that they might want to continue. However, sometimes it’s a little more complicated. For example, they may be confused about their surroundings, maybe their home suddenly feels unfamiliar and they want to find their ‘real’ home, which could be a place they lived in as a child or as a young adult.

Tip: Listen carefully. Whatever they say, might not make sense to you, but it will to them. The more able you are to put yourself in their shoes, the more able you will be to ease their anxiety and lessen their need to ‘escape.’

Consider technology
There are many gadgets that can help you keep an eye on a loved one with dementia. From simple alarms and monitors that bleep if they open the front door of their home, to more sophisticated tracking devices that can be placed in purses, jewellery, clothing or even shoes and can quickly provide you with accurate information about someone’s whereabouts. To find a tracker that suits your needs and budget, go here for more information

Want to read more on this subject? Here’s 3 more articles you might find helpful

13 ways to make doors safe for someone with dementia

Finding Archie

Walking with purpose: Why do people with dementia wander?