Wandering and Dementia



Article Contributed by
Cheryl Krull

It is finally May! Summer is coming. Everyone wants to go OUTSIDE! After so many months, the fresh air and sunshine beckon us out – for a walk, to work in the yard or just to sit on the porch.

Spring and summer, however, present new complications to the caregivers of individuals suffering from dementia. Despite their impairments, they too feel the urge to be out and about. Often, this leads to wandering issues. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six in ten dementia patients will wander. In the early stages a person can become disoriented easily and feel lost – even in familiar surroundings.

Certain behaviors can be clues that loved ones may be at risk for wandering or getting lost. If an individual can still functions independently at times, watch for shopping trips or walks that take longer than usual. A wanderer may become confused even in a familiar place or finding the bathroom or the closet. If a patient is restless or insists on going somewhere specific – “to work” or “home”, they may try to set out on their own to get there.

A caregiver can try to prevent wandering in several ways. Follow a schedule or routine and avoid busy places such as shopping malls or places that might cause disorientation. Dress them in bright colors to make them easier to spot in a crowd if separated. Lock doors and windows and hide car keys. Place locks out of sight or in an inconvenient place. Child-proof locks may be useful on doors and windows. Alarms on windows and doors are helpful, especially at night. A simple bell on a doorknob may even work. Place night-lights around the home to prevent falls and accidents after dark. Nighttime wandering may start with a bathroom trip or a drink of water. Make sure personal needs are met before bedtime and leave a glass of water on the nightstand.

A potential wanderer should never be left alone. It only takes a moment to find an exit and leave unaccompanied. Dementia patients are often determined and resourceful. Specially made wander-guard and GPS devices also help to ensure their safety.

The patient should carry or wear identification at all times. Notify police immediately if wandering is suspected and supply a list of potential locations the wanderer may go to (i.e. past jobs, relative’s homes, favorite places). Often wanderers are found close to home, but it is a good idea not to let too much time elapse before calling for help.

Caring for a person with dementia can be a very challenging task for family members and even professional caregivers. Do not hesitate to seek assistance for problems like wandering. Each case is unique; some solutions may not work for everyone. Precautions against wandering will help you and your loved one enjoy summer safely, with less anxiety and stress.