Dealing with a Wandering Loved One with Alzheimer’s

Written by: Frank Engelman. Posted: October 16, 2020. 



I was finding it very hard when she would get up and wander during the night. It got to be a problem when she was in the “Sundowner” state and was a bit hostile.

Before my wife passed away from Alzheimer’s, she went through a period of wandering outside the home that I could control with a few simple devices. I want to share what I did, and the solutions I used, in the hope they will be useful for others in the same situation I was in.



Solutions That Worked For Me & My Wife


Prevention: Door Latch

The first solution was a simple door latch mounted high up on the door that would keep her inside when I could see that she was suffering from confusion. This was especially useful at night when I was trying to sleep. Even during the daytime, it was beneficial not to be “standing watch” all day long.

Door Latch

Caption: Door latch (red arrow).


An Alert: Bluetooth Tag

Since I couldn’t always detect that she was about to wander, I also used a Bluetooth tag to receive an “out of area” notification when she took her purse that she always carried.

I used a Bluetooth tag in her purse that had a separation alert feature. This is a good technique if your loved one ALWAYS takes a purse, wallet, jacket, or keys where you could attach a tag. 

These tags are primarily used to locate a missing item via an app on your smartphone and provide a notification when that item leaves the area. Please note that you can use the smallest of tags because you are no longer concerned with how loud the sound is because you will not be using it to find the tag.

Here is an example of using an older Fitbit Zip clip to hold a Wopin Bluetooth tag

Bluetooth tracker tag

Caption: Bluetooth "Separation Alert" Tag and Clip.



My Brother Needs a Different Solution

When my wife went through this phase, it was several years ago. At that time, the GPS tracker tags that we will be describing later were very bulky and expensive. She also was a bit resistant to wearing any device.

I’m finding that many people with Alzheimer’s go through this same stage, and it recently happened to my sister-in-law. As my brother tries to deal with his wife’s wandering issue, we found that some of my previous solutions aren’t working. 

For example, the door latch solution won’t work, as his wife likes to spend a lot of time outside in the garden and tends to wander away from there. She also doesn’t consistently bring a purse or any other items that he can tag. 



Solutions We Are Investigating

We are investigating several solutions that may be of interest to readers.


Solution One: Monitor the Perimeter

We are testing a couple of potential solutions that involve perimeter monitoring and alerting. They involve two different approaches:

  1. We use Bluetooth Tags with out-of-range alerts
  2. We add outdoor motion sensors to detect motion in an area. This could include security cameras, but they aren’t as reliable as actual motion detectors. My brother will test the cameras as he works from home and likes to monitor the property.

Here is a link to an article where you can get more information on how I set up the first of these two solutions.


Solution Two: Track Movement Outside the Perimeter

This is an area that has seen significant improvement in technology since I was looking to use it for my wife.

The device size has been dramatically reduced, and the monthly service charges have also been reduced. Each of these will require a monthly service plan from the vendor for the “cell phone” service. They all have free GPS, but need cell service so that you can get real-time location information.

The remaining issue is that since these are all “wearable” devices, your loved one needs to be compliant in their wearing, or you will need to be very creative.

These trackers come in several different form factors.

  • Wearable pendants
  • Clip-on tags
  • Tracking watches
  • “Hidden” trackers such as footpads

One problem you can run into is that, just like your cell phone coverage, one carrier’s coverage may be better in your area than another’s coverage. You have no choice in this, as the device vendor chooses it.

For a rather comprehensive overview of Location Tracking in Dementia, covering all the above categories of trackers, see this companion article on Tech-enhanced Life:



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Reader Comments: "Dealing with a Wandering Loved One with Alzheimer’s "


from DaisyMae Pedregon (unverified) at August 06, 2021

My friend has early dementia and lives in WA, her husband had a stroke and she is having trouble joining my 360. I spend an hour on the phone walking her thru the process and she got as far as email n no further. She wants to be in my family circle for safety but can't just can't do it. Is there anyway I, I live in CA,
can do it for her.
Please help me. I am terribly worried about her. There is no one to help her.
Help me please. Thank you, Miss Daisy


from faengelm (member) at August 09, 2021

Hello Miss Daisy,

I understand the issue of trying to remotely guide someone over the phone when they are trying to install or configure an application.

I looked into the Life360 app and found that although you can send her an invitation to join your Circle, she still needs to install the app on her phone and configure it

I have found that asking a remote loved one to share their screen while in a Zoom meeting allows me to see what they are seeing and better guide them.

If you feel that this wouldn’t work for your friend, have you considered one of the devices in this article that would allow you to track her with no configuration necessary on her part? You could configure it and ship it to her and track her with the app on your phone.


from davidt (member) at August 12, 2021

Although it likely will not be of any benefit to you on this occasion, my understanding is that the new version of apple's operating system (ios 15 and mac os monterey, released next month), will enable you to share your screen during a Facetime call. If your friend has an iphone or ipad, this might help a little in the future.

I havent tried the beta yet, but i'm hopeful that it will make "support" calls a little bit easier, rather than having the person on the other end describe what they are seeing on their screen. 

In the meantime, one thing which did occur is that perhaps (!) you could set up your friend's account on life360 for her so that she has less steps to log out of life 360 on your own phone, and then register for a new account with your friend's phone number/email (although you will need her on the line as i suspect they will send a verification text message to her mobile, or her email), and then you can get her fully signed up...You would then log out of her account, log back in under your own account, and then all your friend would need to do is install the app and sign in. I havent used life360 for a while and maybe this isn't possible but its an approach that can work for other apps. That said, this is likely still going to be a difficult task for your friend.

I'm sorry i can't help you more directly,  and I wish you the very best. 


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Last Updated: October 26, 2020.

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