Getting out and about with confidence
A diagnosis of dementia should not discourage anyone getting out and about in the early stages of the disease. Trips within the immediate neighbourhood provide a good source of exercise, relieve boredom and stress, ease aches and pains and provide opportunity for social engagement – all of which are vital in contributing to a feeling of general wellbeing and improved mood.
By putting in place a few simple precautions, much can be done to improve safety and alleviate fears of disorientation, confusion and getting lost.
1. Fit a KeySafe
A KeySafe is a small secure box fitted to the outside of the house in which you can keep a spare door key. The lock is activated by a 4 digit code. This can be useful if you go out and then realise you’ve forgotten your door key. Write down the number code and keep it in your purse or wallet so you’ve got it to refer to, and make sure someone nearby knows the code as well (perhaps a trusted neighbour or close friend you could ring should the need arise).
2. Consider external door sensors and reminder messages
Pressure pads can be fitted under the door mat, or on the bottom of the door itself, that can sound an alarm (to you, or via a telephone line to a nominated person or call centre) if the door is left open or play a pre-recorded and personalised message, reminding you to pick up your keys, put on a coat, remember your mobile phone, lock up etc.. as you go out. AT Dementia’s website shows some of the assistive technologies available and is recommended by the Alzheimer’s Society as a useful source of information – www.atdementia.org.uk
3. Carry a mobile phone or a tracking device
Having a simple mobile phone with a loved one’s phone number stored in it and easily accessible, can provide valuable reassurance, as can having location finder technology built into either your phone or a separate tracking device. This enables your location to be tracked on a computer or mobile phone by a friend or relative if you were expected home but appear to have gone missing. Most devices also have a panic button built-in should you become lost or disorientated.
4. Wear Identification
Some people carry an identification card containing details of their own name and address, and the phone number of someone who could be contacted should it become necessary. This information can also be contained in a wristband that can be worn all the time, alleviating worries about forgetting to take it with you. The Alzheimer’s Association recommend MedicAlert who provide an identification systems for adults where jewellery is engraved with details of the person’s condition, an ID number and a 24 hour emergency phone number – www.medicalert.org.uk
5. Use familiar local landmarks
Many people with dementia find that their recognition for familiar landmarks in the locality helps them find their way home safely. Following a familiar route that contains landmarks triggers deep memory. It may be helpful to photograph these landmarks then use these make a simple picture map tracing the route back from a place you visit often. The map reminding you of your way back from the local shop, may, for instance show photos of the hairdressers, followed by the café, the war memorial, then the street sign at the end of the road.
Getting out and about in the local area are important factors in maintaining a sense of purpose and wellbeing. Adopting these precautions will hopefully ease your own concerns, help reassure carers, and most importantly prolong independence for as long as possible.