Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Preventing Wandering with Door Alarms

Sundowners combined with wandering can be a trying time for caregivers. My mother only experienced "Sundowners" for a short time. However one experience lasted over a week during which she did not sleep at all. I managed for about three days to stay awake. It was a grueling experience. I was fearful that she would go outside and I wouldn't hear her leave. I talked to Mom's social worker, Dee Dee, and she suggested door alarms.

The set we got was from RadioShack and was actually a home security system. The system had wireless alarms that were attached to the door and frame. It had a central receiver that was plugged in. You could program it to call the police if the alarm went off (I disabled this option). The door alarms could be set to "chime" or make a "raucous noise" that was loud enough to wake the neighbors.

Shortly after the alarms had been installed I was talking on the phone to Dan (my husband to be, at this time we were just dating). Just before he called me, a friend of mine and her grand-children stopped by to visit. While talking to Dan one of the kids went out the door, making it chime. I continued talking because Mom was sitting on the couch beside me. After the door chimed Dan said, "Why are you still on the phone?" I explained to him that Elsie and her kids were here and Mom was safe.

I was amazed when I realized how conditioned all of us were to listen for the chime. The door alarms saved my sanity and kept Mom safe.

I have seen updated door alarms in several places. The prices for most systems are very reasonable. (1) Wireless Door Alarm (2) Wireless Door Watch Alarm (3) Door Alarms

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Many people with Alzheimer’s or other memory challenged folks sometimes wander and cannot tell anyone who they are or where they live. When Mother would get away from one of the caregivers or me; we would start to search. Talk about panic and anxiety.

The other day a friend of mine told me of an incident where she found a lady who did not know her own name or who to contact. My friend called the police and eventually this lady and her family were reconnected. One of her observations was no one really knew how to respond to this situation (911; the police; the family nor community members at large. This got me to remembering my own experiences both as a searcher and as a community member in a similar situation.

As I was surfing I saw an ad for a GPS unit for people with Alzheimer’s. The initials GPS stands for global positioning system. It helps track an individual’s location if they have a GPS device with them.

My research showed that several other countries have GPS bracelets and other GPS jewelry that hasn’t yet been offered in the United States. I did find several companies that do offer some form of GPS monitoring devices for families. (1) Quest Guard (2) World Tracking Solutions (3) Wander Guard (4) RadioShack

Our Good Health has an interesting article about practical solutions for real problems that are faced by care givers and their families.

The Alzheimer’s Store and found two books that connects to the problems of wandering. The first is a workbook called “In Search of the Alzheimer Wanderer” by Mark Warner. It is a workbook for the families and community members to deal with the problems of wandering. The statistic that I read said many wanderers die if not found in the first 24 hours. The second book is the story of Stella Mallory Dickerman “Gone Without a Trace”, who unfortunately was not found in time. It is written by her daughter Marianne Caldwell.

The GPS units that I located were a little pricey but I noticed an article from a community service organization seeking information and prices because they wanted to purchase GPS device for several families.

Friday, June 19, 2009

National Impact of Alzheimer’s

According to HBO Alzheimer’s Project - the Harris Interactive Census - 54% of the US population (100 million people have been touched by Alzheimer’s.

What an overwhelming statistic. The Alzheimer’s Project website is a great resource. The project is a 4 part film documentary by HBO. The website also has 15 supplemental films (many about current research). Community resources and out reach projects. They also have a tribute wall for people to add their stories.

Alzheimer’s has affected many of my Mother’s family: 1 of her aunts; her mother; one brother; one sister; and herself. According to the Harris Interactive Census it is the 2nd most feared disease next to cancer. One third of American adults are afraid of getting it.

In another article I remember reading that currently 5 million people have the disease, but Alzheimer’s affects many more than that when you consider the impact on family and friends. Mind blowing numbers!

For me, seeing how current research is progressing is very encouraging. When I started caring for my Mother there wasn’t a lot of information about being a caregiver and information on the disease itself was limited. What a difference 11 years has made. My Aunt went into an assisted living center about two years ago. I talk to her on the phone about once a month, (she lives in another state) I am impressed at how well she is doing. She doesn’t remember being told about Mom’s passing and I don’t remind her.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Trips To The Store

Excursions with a person with Alzheimer’s is both rewarding as well as stressful. One particular event made me change what procedures I used when I took Mom shopping with me.

During one Christmas season I took Mom shopping at Wal-Mart. The store was packed. It was snowing outside, the sidewalks were slippery, the parking lot was overflowing and there were lots of people in the store.

I kept my Mother close to me. I was very conscious of where she was. Then I turned my back for just a moment. She was gone! I was panic stricken. I searched the store, talked to security all to no avail. I went back to where we first got separated. I was trying to describe my mother to the security guards when I looked up to see a family walking towards me, followed by my mother. I was relieved! I was ecstatic!

I remembered seeing them earlier. The mother said that they walked by us and awhile later realized that my mother was following them. They decided they would go back to where they first saw us and see if they could find me. After that incident I made a number of changes.

1) I chose times and places that were not chaotic.
2) I made tags from shrink art plastic with my mother’s name, address and phone #. I attached these to her coat, her shoes and her shirt.
3) I made a homemade leash similar to the one my mother made for my rambunctious sister when she was a toddler. I tried to make it as unobtrusive as I could. Unfortunately it frequently came off. I tried looking for hi tech options with variable success.
4) I carried current pictures of my mother with me.

Recently I read an article about a mother who takes a picture of her child with her cell phone before each outing. What a great safety strategy that would also work with memory challenged individuals. It would provide current picture and accurate description of what they are wearing today. Having it on your cell phone makes it easy to forward to police or other individuals who are helping to search if someone gets separated.

It was a great day when I learned about the Alzheimer’s Safe Return Program www.alz.org/SafeReturn 1-800-272-3900. This program helps police and caregivers 24/7. Registration is about $40.00 part of the program includes jewelry and identification cards and a number if the person is found.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Read Aloud Books for Memory Challenged Adults

A few years ago I read an article in Woman’s World Magazine about Lydia Burdick and the book she had just written for memory challenged adults. At the time I ordered her first book (Sunshine on My Face) my mother was not talking very much. As I read the book to her- she saw the pictures of the cows and responded: “Moo! Moo!” It was a magical moment!
According to the reviewer, Margaret Withey, from the Observer – Lydia not only wrote a book but created a new genre. I believe that is a true statement.
Other Read-Aloud Books for Memory Challenged Adults
Happy New Year to You by Lydia Burdick
Wishing on a Star by Lydia Burdick
Through the Seasons: An Activity Book for Memory Challenged Adults by Cynthia Green
A Loving Voice: A Caregiver's Book of Read-Aloud Stories for the Elderly - Edited by Carolyn Banks and Janis Rizzo

Sources & Reviews: www.healthpropress.com
New York City Alzheimer’s Association Chapter: www.alznyc.org
The Observer www.hartford.edu/NewsEvents/ObserverPast/ObserverFall05/books/sfbfa05b.html
Audio Archives – Lydia Burdick www.wsradio.com/copingwithcaregiving/january2005.htm
The Alzheimer's Store www.alzstore.com

Alzheimers: the on going journey

My mother, Elizabeth Chandler, was diagnosed with moderate-advanced alzheimers in October 1998. She passed away June 10, 2007. During most of that time she lived with me. I still miss her. In honor of her life I would like to share some snapshot experiences from our family's journey.
In looking back there are things I wish I had understood better, and successes that I wish we had celebrated more.

Last fall (2008) I attended the Montana Alzheimers Conference, one of the presenters was Jolene Brackey. I wish that I had met her years ago. She shared some very practical and down to earth strategies.

One observation that she made was to determine where in the past your loved one is living. If the chrological age of the person is 85 and they are worried or talking about their young children. In their mind they are probably about 25. Jolene's recommendation was to find and copy pictures from that time of their family. She also said to write out the names, including pet names, of the people. Write several short stories (events) about the people in the pictures. Make copies of the pictures and the stories so that anyone who visits your loved one can talk about that time and people. This helps them reconnect to their memories, and gives them real conversations.

"Families have the knowledge to build a bridge between the care provider and the person with Alzheimers. Once families understand dementia and how to apply the knowledge they hold. They can become "helpers" in the journey." - Jolene Brackey

Jolene has a CD set called "Family Moments"