Wander Prevention – A Concern for Young Children and For The Elderly

Wandering is a concern for parents of toddlers and young children who are old enough to get out and about, even crawling, and can also be a concern for caregivers of elderly people with failing memory who are in the early stages – known as age-related memory loss – which can progress into more severe memory loss and into a condition known as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) which is often a precursor to Dementia; Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.

A helpful resource is the ‘Wandering’ page on the Alzheimer’s Association website.

Wander Prevention

Wandering prevention – or wander prevention – typically involves detection that a person has left a room or a building, and that person – the individual we are caring for – might be as young as 2 years old or might be a person in their 70s or older. Wandering prevention options available range in sophistication and price, but there’s a good number to choose from.

Let’s Talk Technology

To get us started let’s take a broad look at the different types of alarm, alert, detection, and even tracking options that technology offers. We plan to keep this as basic and as brief as possible but recognize that our approach might be a little too basic for those who have a strong grasp of technology, and so invite those who fall into that category to skim through the first sections of these notes, unless, that is, they are very cost-conscious and are looking for a low cost wander prevention solution.

An explanation of what you can expect:

Our present resource level at Safey-At-Home.org does not extend to us undertaking lab and real-world tests of every type of system and product out there. We are focused on researching and compiling general information which we feel will help our website users gain enough knowledge to make informed choices.

Simple and Low Cost

The simplest and lowest cost solution is to lock doors and windows securely, but that is often not fully practical and is likely to raise concerns relating to fire safety.

Click on the images and the link will take you to Amazon.com to search for door hardware or on this link to search for door alarms.

Even toddlers, as well as elderly people, don’t want to be locked down, and whether it’s potty training a toddler to use the bathroom or an elderly person who is still fully capable of getting themselves to the bathroom, the lockdown approach alone probably isn’t going to work well anyway – at least not as a fully adequate solution.

It is important to recognize that in reality, only the lock-down solution is true and complete prevention against wandering; all other solutions are alert or alarm systems that bring to a parent or caregiver’s attention awareness that a toddler, an elderly person, or a charge who has special needs, has opened a door or a window.

The first step up in technology, that can be employed for preventing a toddler from wandering, are alarm devices that detect and alert that a door or window has opened. Such systems are similar, and in some cases identical, to intrusion devices that many home security alarm systems are based on. Movement detection systems are a step up from having to install physical detector modules on every door that might be opened by our toddler or elderly person. Some of these devices can be hung on door handles or, using a simple bracket, hung from the top of any door well out of reach.

Movement sensor style alarms, in many cases, are portable, meaning they can be transferred from one location to another; from one door to another, or one room to another. For the family that travels, these are an excellent choice since they can be taken along and plugged-in, and they are up and operational very quickly.

Because the biggest concern with wandering toddlers or seniors is them leaving the home and are then at risk of traffic accidents or just plain and simple getting lost, movement sensor systems are generally employed within the building rather than on external doors or on windows.

The next level of sophistication, and one that usually requires installation of some level, are systems that detect that a door or window has been opened and has not closed within a space of a certain amount of time.

Click on the image and the link will take you to Amazon.com to search for security movement detection cameras.

Getting More Sophisticated

Before you reject wander alarm and alert systems that might look a little complicated, be sure to check into them – ask for them to be explained and wherever possible demonstrated. Today there are many options that even include video monitoring, an extremely helpful feature for babies and toddlers. One might have to be careful about announcing, “Hey Grandpa, we are going video so we can see that you haven’t wandered off.” Video monitoring, after all, falls into the category of surveillance. Monitoring the front door and the approach to the front door, and even side and rear entrances to your home on the outside is not likely to raise any major issues, but in the home, especially in Grandpa’s room. That is definitely a different matter.

So, in between the ‘Simple & Low Cost’ wander preventing and alerting options, some of which offer the attraction of minimal or no installation required, and systems with video monitoring capability, there are a number of different approaches that are available. Some take advantage of smart technology and Wifi (local range, limited distance wireless) for managing the system and, in most cases, one downloads an App (application) and installs it on the smart ‘phone and you then, quite literally have armchair control, especially when video monitoring is part of the package.

Children and Adults With Disabilities

Children and adults with Autism and similar disabilities are among those that, age-wise, fall in between toddlers and elderly, but wander prevention systems (or wandering prevention systems, if you prefer that term) are extremely helpful to parents, family member caregivers and also professional caregivers. It always feels unfair to talk about it in this way, but being able to keep an eye on them is both necessary and challenging, and the life journey for an individual with autism and their caregivers is almost certainly going to extend for a longer period of time.

Out Wandering

Although there are a number of ‘reliability issues’ that need to be considered, cell ‘phones and their ability to show a person’s location on another person’s ‘phone has merit. To begin with, there’s no extra cost to justify, and also there’s no extra equipment, device or adornment to have to carry. All one has to do is ‘pair the devices’ so that the caregiver’s ‘phone is set to track the other. A third – and major – positive is that the cell ‘phone creates no stigma, and as such, a cell ‘phone is a convenient and viable solution to knowing where a wanderer has gotten to. In crowded locations, there may still be difficulty connecting with the person you are looking for, but a least you know, and can confirm, that you are searching in the right area. However, if that location is a high rise building – apartments, offices or a hotel – there’s no way of knowing which floor or which apartment or room but, hopefully, in most situations a ‘phone call or text message will overcome that shortcoming. All of this assumes two things; first, the batteries in the cell ‘phones – both cell ‘phones – are kept charged and, second, that the wandering person doesn’t end up in a location where there is no cell ‘phone signal.

Where paired cell ‘phones are not an adequate solution, there are specially designed tracking monitoring devices that can be worn unobtrusively, even completely out of sight, such as being concealed in an insole worn inside a shoe! This type of system is specialized and can include remote management that offers alarm levels depending on how far the person wearing or carrying the device has moved from the home location.

The Bottom Line

Individual needs vary but most situations requiring some form of wander prevention will fall into a category that can be accommodated by either a single solution or a combination of available solutions. Finding the right system or combination of systems will – for both the parent or caregiver and for the toddler, elderly person or individual with special needs appropriate to their handicap, make for less worry and more freedom – in spite of the restrictions, for both.

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2 thoughts on “Wander Prevention – A Concern for Young Children and For The Elderly”

  1. I am a director in a home where seniors live and we have some that Wander. It is such a difficult thing to keep track of. Thank You for the suggestions here and I will continue to read your blog for all the useful tips you have on here. I am going to start with a simple beeper on the door and progress from there as needed.

    • Thank you for your feedback, Connie. I am pleased that you have found our Safety-At-Home (.org) website helpful.
      I wish you and your residents a Happy Thanksgiving and Christmas Holiday season.
      – Ron


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