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5 Ways to Keep a Loved One Who Wanders Safe

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
3 minute readLast updated April 21, 2023

Finding a balance between independence and safety is a challenge for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, as well as for their caregivers. Many people with dementia become disoriented and can wander. In fact, one study shows that six out of 10 people wander during the course of the disease. Fortunately, electronic devices and monitoring can help locate your loved one and keep them safe.

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Ways to keep a loved one who wanders safe

Locating devices can provide independence to a person who wants to go out alone, but might become disoriented or lost. Devices are usually worn like a watch on a wristband, or they may be carried like cell phones.
The locating devices for seniors with dementia listed below may help you keep a loved one who wanders safe:

1. Location tracking applications

These can be used with cell phones, or in some cases, on dedicated devices. Apple, Android, and even many pre-paid mobile phones offer location tracking or phone finding technology. Of course, the usefulness of these apps hinge on your loved one having their phone on them should they get lost.

2. GPS devices

Global positioning systems use satellite signals to calculate a GPS-device user’s exact location. However, GPS may not work as well indoors, underground, or in certain remote locations. Some GPS systems work as a kind of electronic fence and will notify caregivers if the wearer wanders out of preset safety boundaries. Many at-home medical alert devices come with options for GPS-locating and monitoring.

3. Radio frequency devices

These homing devices use radio signals and can be used indoors. However, they have a relatively short range of about three miles. Project Lifesaver is one company that sells radio frequency tracking devices. Some locating devices are connected with a service that has staff that will locate the wearer. Others will depend on the caregiver to locate the wearer. Others, like the ones from Project Lifesaver, require local police services to find the person who has wandered. While many people see the use of tracking devices as a way to help increase the safety and personal freedom of the dementia patient, others may see it as a violation of their privacy. Ideally, discuss the use of a locating device early on with the person who has the diagnosis to learn their preferences.

4. Modification of the home environment

Items that promote home safety for seniors can be placed strategically around a living space so that caregivers can be alerted if a person is wandering, such as pressure-sensitive mats in front of a door that chime when someone steps on them or other home monitoring systems. Similarly, door chimes can be placed on doors to make a sound when the door is opened. Some dementia patients benefit from clearly labeled doors that say “DO NOT ENTER,” as well as clearly labeled bathroom doors so that they don’t mistakenly wander through the wrong one and get lost.

5. The Safe Return program

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a program called Safe Return. It’s a 24/7 emergency response service with a small annual fee. If a Safe Return member wanders, their caregiver calls 911 and then the Safe Return hotline. Safe Return will fax the member’s information and photo, which they keep on file, to local police. Additionally, local Alzheimer’s Association chapters will be activated to help reunite the family or caregiver with the member. People enrolled in Safe Return receive an ID bracelet with their identification and medical information to make them easy to identify should they wander and become confused.

Let our care assessment guide you

Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

How to choose a locating device

To figure out what kind of device works best for your needs and the needs of your loved one, consider where the device will be used.
  • Will it be used primarily in the home, in a care facility or outdoors?
  • Is there open space, thick tree coverage or a body of water near where the wearer would be most likely to wander?
  • If so, will the device you’re considering work in those areas?
  • Does the locating device allow for the appropriate freedom of movement for the patient?
  • Who is the preferable monitor of the location device?
  • Will it be a family member, professional staff or the police?
Also consider how user friendly the device is, how reliable it is and how comfortable it will be for the person wearing it.


Meet the Author
OurParents Staff

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom (of which OurParents is a trademark) and the reader.  Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site.  Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.