Wandering & Dementia
Wandering is a common problem among people with dementia and refers to the urge to walk about or leave the home. Although exact estimates are hard to find, the Alzheimer’s Association reports that 60% of persons with Alzheimer’s disease will wander away from the caregiver at some time during their disease. Although a small proportion of individuals with dementia frequently wander aimlessly and may get lost, wandering is believed to be an unpredictable behavior. This problem is very worrying for caregivers and presents a challenge for the person with dementia’s safety and wellbeing. However, wandering may be a warning sign of a person’s need for stimulation, social contact, exercise, and maintenance of mobility.
Keep in mind that wandering may occur when….
- The person walks about their environment and cannot find his/her way back. This could be at the home, residential facility, shopping mall, day care, etc.
- The caregiver briefly leaves the individual alone while doing something else in the house and the person with dementia inexplicably gets up and leaves the home and then cannot find their way back.
- The person feels confused or disoriented in the environment (either new or familiar).
- When the environment is threatening or over stimulating, the person may be agitated or simply wanting to search for a safer, calmer, or familiar environment.
- The person has excess energy or is bored.
- The person habitually used to go on walks (old habits).
- The person is in pain.
Tips for dealing with wandering behavior
- Avoid crowded environments.
- Do not let persons with dementia walk in the community by themselves.
- Use respite care rather than leaving the individual home alone.
- Use locks that the person with dementia has never learned to operate or move locks higher or lower on the door frame out of the normal visual field on outside doors.
- Notify neighbors to bring the individual back home if they ever see him/her out alone.
- Enroll the person in a local Safe Return programs.
- Childproof doorknobs or latches mounted high on doors help prevent wandering outside.
- Sometimes a stop sign or a sign saying "Do not enter" on an exit door is enough.
- Signs on the bathroom and bedroom can also help the person with dementia find there way.
- Rooms that are off-limits pose a different problem. Camouflaging a door with paint or wallpaper to match the surrounding wall may short-circuit a compulsion to wander into such rooms.
- Night lights and gates at stairwells can be used to protect night wanderers
Information adapted from: Interview published by the Orlando Sentinel with Dr. Meredeth Rowe, ( University of Florida), on 2-17-06, “Q/A on wandering and dementia” http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_local_orlandocrime/2006/02/there_is_anothe.html
The Alzheimer’s Association’s fact sheet on wandering behavior, http://alz.org/documents/national/FSSRCaregivers.pdf (2007)
The Better Health Channel’s fact sheet on dementia and wandering, http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcpdf.nsf/ByPDF/Dementia_and_wandering/$File/Dementia_and_wandering.pdf (2007)