One of the most frequently asked questions of this eldercare consultant is: What is an appropriate residence for my family member? To be effective in this role, it not only entails a thorough assessment of the adult senior but also refresher visits to long standing residences and visiting those residences that have opened since Covid.
A “mix and mingle” recently brought me to Briarcliff, New York to a new residence that is exclusively devoted to residents with dementia. An impressive feature was the enclosed outdoor space where residents can “wander, “as my guide pointed out, or, as I would like to think, where residents can “walk.” So, what’s the difference?
Wandering implies that the person’s actions are aimless or purposeless, putting them in danger to themselves. Stepping outside on a stormy day, making one’s way over to a busy intersection or leaving the house in the dark of night. But in other situations that wandering is walking. It has a purpose; since it is difficult for the person to communicate feelings or needs verbally, it is up to caregivers, sometimes with the assistance of a professional or organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association to figure out the reason for a loved one’s walking. While the explanations can be plentiful, the Ohio Council for Cognitive Health provides some direction as to why a person with dementia is walking continuously:
Pain: the person may be in pain and not able to express the pain.
Medication: the person may be experiencing medication side-effects that cause agitation.
Noise: the room may be too noisy or overstimulating
Boredom: If the person is bored, he or she may walk as something to do.
Toilet: The person may be searching for the bathroom and is not able to find it.
Lost item: The person may be searching for something that he or she believes is lost. This item may or may not exist.
Hunger: The person may be hungry and not realize that he or she needs to eat.
Confusion: The person may not recognize their own home and may want to go somewhere that they think is home.
Habits: The person may be trying to continue a long-standing habit such as going to work.
Sleep disruption: Restlessness or changing sleep patterns can lead to confusion between night and day. A person may wake early, become disoriented and think it is daytime and leave the house for work or a walk.
And this eldercare consultant’s suggestion, it comes from my favorite tee shirt which shows a pair of Birkenstock sandals. Beneath the sandals is the quote: “All who wander are not lost.” I would like to adjust that quote a bit and say all who walk find tranquility in the moment. The assurance of putting one foot in front of the other in uncertain times.