Bengaluru, the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka, is home to over 30,000 people living with dementia.
While the city is home to various dementia day care services and facilities to help those with the condition, the city has seen a steady rise in what it refers to as ‘wandering patients’; people with dementia who end up escaping from home or a care residency, which can end up posing serious risks.
Just last Friday, a 70-year-old patient went missing from a care home in the capital after it was believed she had jumped over a wall and escaped.
The care home was put on high alert as staff contacted police, informed the elder’s helpline and approached media outlets to put out missing person statements to help find the missing resident.
Family and friends were also informed, and posts on social media to help spread the word.
“We retrieved a photo of hers from our records, made multiple copies and sent them out. Our staff divided themselves into teams and started looking out for her,” said a senior staff member from the care home.
At around 7:30pm, staff eventually found the resident and returned her to the care home.
While family members of the resident in question were relieved, there was also a sense of déjà vu:
“This is not the first time that she has wandered off. Her family said that she had once wandered away and reached her native place outside Bengaluru,” another staff member said.
And the unfortunate truth is cases like this are becoming more frequent in Bengaluru. These ‘wandering patients’ run the risk of exhaustion as they are unlikely to seek out food or water, as well as running the risk of having a traffic accident.
Many also say that awareness of dementia in Bengaluru is too low. Early signs of dementia, such as forgetting memorable events, losing items or repeating themselves are often simply put down to the general ageing process, when the reality is they could be warning for something much worse.
There are ways to help stop people with dementia from wandering, such as doors that only open from the inside with a key, but many say that this can lead to people becoming even more frustrated and violent.
Tackling the problem
Ms. Rashmi, whose mother was diagnosed with dementia, said that frequent walks outside can help prevent those with dementia from wishing to wander:
“Keeping them indoors could lead to some frustration. It helps if they are taken out every day for a little time. It is also important to keep them occupied in an organised activity, preferably something familiar to them. In my mother’s case, it was basic household chores such as folding the clothes or cutting vegetables,” she said.
Many care homes have opted to put trackers on their residents, but co-founder and secretary of Nightingales Medical trust, S Premkumar Raja, says many of them simply remove the device.
Mr Raja says his care home is now testing a GPS-enabled device with residents that is more difficult to remove and provides an easier way to track down lost residents.
The care home will also be a part of a dedicated support service for track and trace dementia cases, which aims to cut down the number of ‘wandering patients’ in the city.