The Dangers of Cold Weather & Wandering: Tips for Winter Safety

Sixty percent of those with Alzheimer’s disease will wander at some point during their diagnosis. This is a significant safety concern for the more than 230,000 people living with Alzheimer’s in Illinois. A person living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia may not remember his or her name or address and can become disoriented even in familiar places. In cold temperatures and winter weather conditions, wandering can be dangerous – even life-threatening. As the weather becomes inclement it is important to keep your loved one with dementia safe by taking simple precautions to prevent wandering.

Alzheimer’s Association’s Tips to Prevent Wandering:

  • Carry out daily activities: Having a routine can provide structure. Consider creating a daily plan.
  • Avoid busy places: Shopping malls and grocery stores can be confusing causing disorientation.
  • Night wandering: Restrict fluids two hours before bedtime and ensure the person has gone to the bathroom just before bed. Also, use night lights throughout the home or facility.
  • Locks: Place out of sight. Install slide bolts at the top or bottom of doors.
  • Doors and doorknobs: Camouflage doors by painting them the same colors as the walls. Cover them with removable curtains or screens. Cover knobs with cloth in the color of the door or use childproof knobs.
  • Monitoring devices: Try devices that signal when a door or window is opened. Place a pressure-sensitive mat at the door or bedside to alert of movement.
  • Secure trigger items: Some people will not go out without a coat, hat, pocketbook, keys, wallet, etc. Making these items unavailable can prevent wandering.

When weather temperatures plummet and staying indoors is encouraged, planning ahead for your loved one can be crucial for his or her safety. The Alzheimer’s Association can help with activity suggestions, communication and how to identify confusion and the triggers that increase the incidence of wandering.

Planning Ahead:

  • Keep a list of people for the person with dementia to call when feeling overwhelmed. Have their telephone numbers in one location and easily accessible.
  • Ask neighbors, friends and family to call if they see the person alone or dressed inappropriately.
  • Keep a recent, close-up photo and updated medical information on hand to give to police.
  • Know your neighborhood. Pinpoint dangerous areas near the home, such as bodies of water, open stairwells, dense foliage, tunnels, bus stops and roads with heavy traffic.
  • Know if the individual is right or left-handed. Wandering generally follows the direction of the dominant hand.
  • Keep a list of places where the person may wander, like past jobs, former homes, places of worship or a restaurant.

Should a loved one go missing, especially in colder temperatures, experts recommend calling 911 as soon as possible so that an Illinois Silver Search advisory or other public notification can be issued. For more information about the Illinois Silver Search program, visit silversearchillinois.org.