How to minimize risk of dementia sufferers wandering

By Kim Leoffler, Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, June 13, 2017, 10:54 PM EDT

It's been a heart wrenching five days of searching for Carol McHugh. The Citrus County Sheriff's Office and volunteers spent hours scouring the area before suspending the search at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

McHugh suffers from early onset dementia. Kathleen Winters with the Alzheimer's Family Organization said it is common for people with a form of dementia to wander.

  • Alzheimer's Association: 6 out of 10 dementia sufferers wander
  • Certain measures can be taken to minimize risk of sufferers getting lost
  • Caregivers should not blame themselves if sufferers wander

"They just have that sense within them that they need to be somewhere, or they need to do something, so they're exit seeking and they're just trying to get out of where they are," Winters explained.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, six out of ten people with some form of dementia wander. Most of them are found within about a mile of their home.

That’s why Citrus Sheriff Prendergast said they decided to condense their search over the last few days.

"We've really come back in and focused on this mile to mile-and-a-half area, just making sure because if it was a case of wandering and she went into some house she might have came out and then walked off and gone in a different direction,” Prendergast said.

Winters told us there are steps caretakers can take to minimize the risk of loved ones wandering.

"Keep of journal of behaviors they see with their loved ones that may cause certain triggers," said Winters. "Have locks on doors -- don't have them at the eye view of the loved one. Have them down low or have them up high, where they aren't really going to notice them and they don't have that sense to be looking. They're just looking straight in front of them," she said.

She also said bracelets and necklaces are available that loved ones can wear with contact information in case they wander. There's even a program where you can save your loved one's scent to help with recovery if they go missing.

Photo: Kim Leoffler, staff

However, Winters stressed all of these precautions won't prevent wandering 100 percent, and caregivers shouldn't blame themselves if their loved ones still wander.

"If they have it in their mind they're going to get out, they're going to get out," she explained.