Safe at Home: Caring For A Parent With Dementia

Man walking in neighborhood with cane

Have you ever had a parent wander?

As our parents grow older, we celebrate and cherish the presence they have in our lives, our growing families, and the wisdom and memories they have fostered within us. Unfortunately, as they reach their early 60s and beyond, they also become more at risk for illness and mental deterioration. 

One of the most-feared and prevalent diagnoses our loved ones can receive later in life is that of dementia. Frustrating, confusing, and seemingly random, dementia doesn’t have a rhyme or reason when affecting patients. Although we have developed the medical technology to predict predispositions to the genes that increase the likelihood of dementia development, this isn’t all encompassing. 

Faced with the harsh realities of dementia, children of parents who are exhibiting dementia symptoms might experience a parent’s unkempt home, confusion in understanding conversations and trouble speaking, as well as the deterioration of everyday tasks such as using the restroom, bathing, and eating.

Any of the aforementioned symptoms present in a parent diagnosed with dementia or developing dementia can incite worry, but when a parent begins wandering outside of the home unsupervised, it brings to life a fear like no other. Confused and disoriented wandering of a parent with dementia can be extremely dangerous, which calls for immediate precautions to be put into place.

When wandering occurs, or in preparation of wandering beginning, many children of parents with dementia make the decision to take their parents into their own homes to better monitor and care for them. As we learn more about the best practices when it comes to caring for a parent with dementia, it becomes clear that taking action sooner rather than later can preserve the safety of your loved one, and give you some peace of mind.

What is dementia and how can I detect it?

Contrary to popular belief, dementia itself is not an illness or disease. Rather, dementia is a relentless and often painfully slow set of conditions that can impair brain functions such as memory, language, and problem-solving. These conditions can also deteriorate muscle movement, recognition, and increase falling accidents. 

The most common symptoms of dementia are memory loss and confusion, but these can be difficult to attribute to a dementia diagnosis since memory loss and confusion are extremely prevalent as one ages, especially in elderly patients. However, if memory loss and confusion are paired with any of the following, it is in the best interest of you and your parent to seek help from a medical professional to ensure a proper diagnosis.

Person putting together puzzle of head

Early symptoms of dementia include:

  • Memory loss

  • Confusion

  • Personality and/or behavioral changes

  • Inability to complete daily tasks

  • Unable to identify common objects or familiar people

  • Irritability

  • Difficulty speaking, reading, or writing

  • Forgetfulness of bodily functions such as eating, urinating, and defecating

  • Asking questions or speaking about past friends and family members

  • Wandering off

  • Sundowning

Although there is no modern cure for dementia, it’s important to understand how dementia affects those who are diagnosed, and how you can better equip yourself when caring for an elderly parent who has been diagnosed – especially if they start wandering off.

In the following paragraphs, we will uncover what sundowning is, how it affects dementia at night and dementia wandering, and the tools you’ll need to keep your elderly parent safe, as well as give you some peace of mind.

What is sundowning?

An often overlooked aspect of dementia progression is sundowning, where an individual’s symptoms worsen as the afternoon leads into the evening. 

For a reason unknown to medical professionals and caretakers alike, dementia’s impact on the brain causes symptoms to worsen as the day turns into night, exacerbating symptoms that can cause sleep problems, anxiety, and disorientation, which in turn only further a patient’s struggles as time goes on.

Sundowning in elderly patients can be hard to detect when parents do not already live at home, especially if visits are earlier in the day when symptoms may not be as present as when sundowning occurs. One of the most problematic aspects of sundowning, other than the aforementioned worsening of symptoms, is that it can induce wandering, especially at night. 

According to The Alzheimer’s Association, in preliminary stages, sundowning and wandering might present as coming home from a walk or drive later than expected, wanting to go home even if already at their place of residence, and attempting to resume former obligations such as going to work or school. If left unattended, wandering might occur in the middle of night, with no one familiar to catch the symptoms presenting. 

It might not be a huge cause for concern if an elderly parent wanders into their backyard or down a few houses, but if we take factors such as weather and unfamiliar areas into consideration, this can be life-threatening. 

Dementia wandering at night, in freezing temperatures, extreme heat, or urban settings can lead to unfathomable accidents with a patient’s confusion forbidding them to fully understand the reality of their situation. If wandering becomes a present symptom, it is imperative to seek out ways to ensure home safety for elderly patients.

Father, Grandfather with walker, and granddaughter walking down street

How can I make my home safe with dementia?

Elderly parents diagnosed with or exhibiting signs of dementia wandering at night is a serious cause for concern, so taking the proper steps to equip yourself and your home to better care for those with dementia wandering is absolutely crucial. 

The most effective and least intrusive way of combating sundowning in elderly parents and caring for a parent with dementia at home is to install motion sensors and alarms. One of the most trusted motion and alarm systems is Guardline, providing sensors for virtually any area on your property or surrounding your home. These sensors can ensure peace of mind and safety for all parties.

Installing these sensors in a variety of places can help monitor the location of eldery parents with dementia, especially if they’re somewhere they shouldn’t be and need assistance. For example, you can install these sensors at exit points of your residence so that if your parent leaves in the middle of the night by mistake, you can stop them and escort them back to safety within a matter of seconds, rather than hours. 

The most beneficial sensors Guardline offers for elderly parents wandering with dementia are their 500 Foot Range Wireless Alarm for shorter distances, and their ¼ Mile Range Weatherproof Wireless Alarm for outdoor places and any exits parents have access to.

Caring for a parent with dementia, in summary:

  • Familiarize yourself with common symptoms of dementia to catch a diagnosis early.

  • Be aware of sundowning and check-in regularly with your elderly parent if they are exhibiting signs of dementia or have already been diagnosed.

  • If wandering occurs, or fear of wandering is present, take action to actively protect your elderly parent with dementia.

Installing motion sensors and alarm systems like the ones from Guardline can increase the safety of your elderly parent when wandering, giving you peace of mind and a helping hand when caring for a parent with dementia.

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