Dementia and walking
There are some people who have dementia who go out walking, can’t remember their way home and end up getting lost. The purpose of dementia friendly communities is to support someone who might appear in distress, if they are seen in the community, to have compassion for someone with a dementia, but they might not appear in distress.
People walk because they always have or because they have a purpose, even if we don’t understand what that purpose is. I’ve had clients that broke out of care home, breaking through doors to do so, because they had to go somewhere or be somewhere that was incredibly important to them, such as going to work, church or school. They might think that they are looking for something or someone. Whatever their reason, however inexplicable to the people around them, it makes sense to them.
The person might get lost on their way to the place they are going or get lost on the way back. This can generate a significant response for the authorities that are tasked with finding lost people, such as the Police or Search and Rescue, who do an outstanding job in difficult circumstances. See the Police’s Herbert Protocol: https://www.met.police.uk/herbertprotocol
It can be challenging to communicate with people with a dementia, so it is difficult for them to explain what they are doing and why and it therefore becomes harder to help them by the people around them. It is worthwhile taking some time to understand their reality, which might be being expressed in their facial expressions, or body language as well as through their verbal communication, which might be confused.
People with dementia are still people, they have human rights like everyone else and should not be treated as lacking their rights. They might need support and care but this should be provided with their rights in mind, so as not to try to restrict them, but to enable them to walk as safely as possible.
They can have a GPS tracker placed on them, if it is in their best interests to wear one and they can be covert, again, if it is in their best interests to wear one. There are some trackers that are insoles, so as long as the person is wearing their shoes, they will be wearing their tracker and can therefore easily and quickly be found, which is very relevant in extremes of weather, both hot and cold. They should not be tracked oppressively, as they are still entitled to their freedom and only when their life is at risk, should they be tracked.
Walking is difficult for those around the person with dementia to manage, if they do it a lot, they will need to be appropriately supported, with everything that they might need, such as appropriate footwear and clothing, contact details in their pocket, snacks and water. It is a tough role being a carer and they are amazing at it!