Doctor Marion

Question: My mother is 84 years-old and has been diagnosed with early Alzheimer's/dementia. She had been living alone until I basically moved in due to her wandering to the neighbor's house one night awhile back. Is there any device available to monitor someone at home, because I work during the day and sometimes have to go away for my job? I know they have monitoring for falls and such, but I'm really looking for something that will let me know were she is at all times. –Shirley, Arizona

Answer: First, Shirley, I must caution you that I do not have a direct solution for this problem, only a set of suggestions. When someone is diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s or dementia, the most important thing to do is keep them safe and make sure their needs are met. They may not be fully aware of their surroundings or may not be fully capable of making good or safe choices for themselves. They are often dependent on you, the caregiver, for their safety and well-being.

I recommend that you contact your state Department of Aging or Alzheimer’s Association in your local community to find out if there is a support group for your problems and concerns. You might be surprised that by talking with others who have similar issues, you can come up with creative solutions that address your particular situation. Also, find out if there is an appropriate day care program for Alzheimer’s or dementia clients in your area so that your mother has a safe and protected environment to go to during the day. This will greatly increase your peace of mind while you tend to your own work, family, and travel needs. As an added bonus, many of these day care programs also have transportation services to and from the center and may be available to lighten your transportation load.

As for the monitoring devices you mentioned, short of locking your mother in her home (which is 100% unacceptable), I have yet to see any device that fully prevents an elder from wandering off. There are “lifeline” devices that can be hung around a person’s neck, but in my experience, these rarely work since the elder will either take off the device or often forget to push the button if they are in trouble. I’ve learned that you cannot rely on something that needs to be manually activated by someone with dementia.

There are safety identification bracelets that can be warn so that if your mother does wander off, she will at least have her contact information handy on the bracelet. Medic Alert and the Alzheimer’s Association, among others, have bracelets that can be purchased. There are also video and computer monitoring devices that can be viewed from a remote location, but these systems have limitations. Your mother can figure out how to turn them off, the electricity can be turned off or a blackout might occur, or your mother could walk into an area that isn’t being monitored by the surveillance cameras.

The best case scenario for a person with dementia is to have someone with them at all times since they could easily hurt themselves or inadvertently hurt someone else. If it is financially viable, I strongly recommend that you consider hiring an aide or a nurse, and be sure it’s a compassionate individual who possesses the necessary training and experience.

© 2007 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Top Tip

Hire help for the most common tasks such as cleaning the home, handyman work, and taking care of trash disposal. You can hire help on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, all depending on your needs, financial ability, and your elder’s wishes. Search out community and government services as well as family aides and religious organizations.

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