Tips and Warning Signs about Alzheimer’s And/Or Dementia


In Fairfax County, there are currently over 97,000 persons over the age of 60. Eleven percent of Fairfax County residents 60 years old and above have developed symptoms of Dementia or Alzheimer’s. These symptoms typically appear at 60 and the risk increases with age. Because of this, our public safety entities handle many calls involving the elderly.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Alzheimer’s disease destroys brain cells responsible for memory, thinking and behavior. Due to confusion, individuals with Alzheimer’s who wander, are often unable to ask for help, leaving them vulnerable to weather, traffic and those who prey on the less fortunate.

A person with dementia may be at risk for wandering if he or she:

  • Comes back from a regular walk or drive later than usual.
  • Tries to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work.
  • Tries or wants to “go home” even when at home.
  • Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements.
  • Has a hard time locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or dining room
  • Acts as if doing a hobby or chore, but nothing gets done (moves around pots and dirt without actually planting anything).
  • Acts nervous or anxious in crowded areas, such as shopping malls or restaurants.

If you live with or care for a person with dementia, here are a few tips to help you reduce the risk of wandering:

  • Place deadbolts either high or low on exterior doors.
  • Control access to car keys (a person with dementia may not just wander by foot).
  • Do not leave someone with dementia unsupervised in new surroundings.
  • Move around and exercise to reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness.
  • Ensure all basic needs are met (toileting, nutrition, thirst).
  • Carry out daily activities, such as folding laundry or preparing dinner, to provide daily structure.
  • Reassure the person if he or he feels lost, abandoned or disoriented.
  • Avoid busy places that are confusing and can cause disorientation, such as shopping malls.

Have a plan in place, so you know what to do in case of an emergency:

  • Keep a list of people to call on for help.
  • When someone with dementia is missing:
    • Begin search-and-rescue efforts immediately.
    • Ninety-four percent of people who wander are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared.
  • Ask neighbors, friends and family to call if they see the person alone.
  • 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.
  • Is the individual right or left-handed?
    • Wandering generally follows the direction of the dominant hand.
  • Keep a list of places where the person may wander.
    • This could include past jobs, former homes, places of worship or a restaurant.
  • Provide the person with ID jewelry. If the person does wander, search the immediate area for no more than 15 minutes.
  • Call “911” and report to the police that a person with Alzheimer’s disease — a “vulnerable adult” — is missing. A Missing Report should be filed and the police will begin to search for the individual.

Fairfax County Adult Day Health Care (ADHC)

If you are searching for help caring for a loved one, this unique program may be the help you need. Have peace of mind knowing that your mother, father or other loved one is in a safe, fun and engaging environment during the day, supported by a team of highly trained staff.

Administered by the Fairfax County Health Department, ADHC operates centers in Fairfax County for individuals who need support during the day due to physical and/or cognitive impairments, including all types of dementia. The centers are open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Breakfast, lunch and a snack is provided and door-to-door transportation by Fastran is available. Fees are based on a daily sliding fee scale ($16 – $107 per day).

Ninety-three percent of family caregivers who responded to the annual satisfaction survey stated that their loved one had benefited from the program, including:

  • Improved general mood.
  • Improved sleep habits.
  • Improved health status.
  • Enhanced alertness and interest in daily life.

Helpful Links:

Fairfax County Services for Older Adults

Fairfax County Adult Day Health Care

Insight Memory Care Center (Fairfax)

Alzheimer’s Association

Increase in Fairfax 50+ Residents