By: Frank Engelman | Posted: October 16, 2020 | Updated: April 7, 2023
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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.
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.
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:
We use Bluetooth Tags with out-of-range alerts
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.
“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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Retired Intel Engineer wanting to share DIY technology tips for the children of parents wanting to remain living independently. I like posting ideas and answering technical questions. If a product or software has an issue making it hard for seniors to use, I try to offer workarounds and also try to contact the manufacturer for solutions. I write a column for this website in the Innovation- Homebrew Solutions & Ideas section