Dulles International Airport

Alzheimer’s “exit-seeking” behavior at 35,000 feet.

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At a certain stage during the course of Alzheimer’s or other dementia, a person can exhibit exit-seeking behavior.  It is believed that the person exhibiting this behavior is actually trying to get home, or back to a familiar place, or even seeking a feeling of comfort rather than simply trying to escape from their current location.

Confused face with question markThis “exiting” can take place just about anywhere, even at the person’s own home – resulting in a dangerous scenario where a wandering vulnerable person could easily fall into any number of  horrific situations because of their inability to get back to the safety of their home (be it a personal residence or a long-term care facility.)  Exiting behavior also takes place in public places such as grocery stores or shopping malls, movie theaters, airports, and yes, even airplanes at 35,000 feet above the ground.  This latter scenario happened on a recent flight I took from Dulles International Airport (DC area) to Seattle International Airport (Seattle, Washington.)

Just a half hour into our five-plus hour flight, a female passenger of approximately 75 years of age became very agitated during our ascent and before the fasten seat belt sign was switched off, she climbed over the passengers in her row, carry-on in hand, screaming all the way to the back of the plane from Row 34.  I was seated in Row 35.  “Wow, she must really have to use the bathroom!” I thought.  A flight attendant tried to get the passenger re-situated in her seat to no avail.  Complicating matters was the fact that the passenger was from another geographical continent and not only did she not speak or understand English, it was determined that other passengers who had flown with her from that same continent (not any relation or connection to her) also could not understand a word that she said.  In essence, she was speaking gibberish.  That was the first sign to myself and the flight attendants, that a) this woman was flying alone; b) she was in severe distress; and c) she most likely had some sort of dementia and was trying to exit her environment.  Not an easy task, nor one any of the United Airline employees were about to allow. Read the rest of this entry »

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