Going for walks is great for your health and wellbeing as we grow older. It strengthens your muscles and bones, lowers your risk of heart disease, boosts your independence, and improves mental health.
For people living with dementia, walking independently comes with certain risks. The greatest risk is that as dementia progresses, the person may become prone to getting lost. Wayfinding – being aware of where you are, and how to get home again – is a complex cognitive skill that can be impacted by dementia. The person may find themselves unsure of where they are (even in a place that is usually familiar to them), and unable to navigate their way home. This can lead to dangerous situations – not to mention cause a great deal of anxiety for the person and their loved ones.
But these risks don’t need to stop someone with dementia from enjoying walks. Many people are still physically capable of walking until the later stages of the disease. By putting good strategies in place, you can help make walking a safer activity, so they can continue to enjoy the pleasure it brings for as long as possible.
Here are eight ways you can reduce the risks of walking and make it safer for people with dementia.
Wear good shoes
Wearing shoes that aren’t good for walking long distances, such as thongs, increases the risk of falling over and sustaining an injury. Encourage the person dress in comfortable, well-fitted shoes that are appropriate for walking, so they can stay physically safe while out and about.
Have a familiar routine
Establishing a regular walking route can help reduce the risk of getting lost. Work out safe and familiar walking tracks in your neighbourhood with your loved one, and encourage them to take walks during the day, when it is easier to see obstacles and orient where you are.
Take note of personally significant locations
Make note of any personally significant locations that a person may go to while out on a walk, such as a previous home, shopping centre, favourite park or a relative’s house. They may gravitate towards these favourite spots or locations from the past.
Be prepared to seek help quickly
It’s important to quickly alert the authorities when someone with dementia doesn’t return home at the expected time. Have your local police’s number handy so it’s easy to make a call, along with numbers of other community places where the person may be likely to wander to (eg. the local chemist, neighbourhood café, another family member’s house). Also have an up-to-date photo handy, so they can be easily identified.
Create a support team
Chat to your loved one about creating a support team, so you know who to call if they don’t arrive home at the expected time. With their input, make a list of people (eg. neighbours, family members, friends) who you can call to help look for the person if they become lost.
Ensure the person has identification on them
Talk to the person about how they want to be identified if they happen to get lost while out for a walk, so someone can offer them help. One option is wearing an ID bracelet; another is having a card in their wallet with an emergency call number on it.
Join a walking group
Walking with others can be a fun way to get some exercise while being social and enjoying people’s company. If you live with your loved one, go for walks regularly together, or try joining a walking group for seniors where they can stay safe.
Consider locator technology
If someone is prone to wandering and getting lost, you could consider using locator technology, such as a GPS advice, that can help locate them quickly if needed. This can be in the form of a lightweight watch, or a mobile phone carried in the pocket. Before using any assistive technology, it’s important to talk to your loved one about it, do your research, and involve them in the decision-making process.
Dementia Caring provides personalised home care for people living with dementia. Our experienced team are committed to providing exceptional service with heart. For more information, please get in touch.