Dealing with Wandering

Wandering in Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease can cause individuals to lose their ability to recognize familiar places and faces. Wandering or becoming lost and confused about location is common at any stage of dementia. Around six in ten people with dementia will wander, posing potential dangers. Caregivers and families bear the weight of this risk.

Who is at risk of wandering?

Every person with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia is susceptible to wandering. Signs indicating wandering risk include:
– Returning late from regular walks or drives.
– Forgetting familiar routes.
– Mentioning past obligations, like going to work.
– Desiring or attempting to “go home” even when already at home.
– Restlessness, pacing, or repetitive movements.
– Difficulty finding familiar places such as the bathroom or bedroom.
– Inquiring about the whereabouts of old friends and family.
– Engaging in hobbies or chores without accomplishing anything.
– Appearing lost or disoriented in new environments.
– Feeling nervous or anxious in crowded areas.

Reducing the risk of wandering

While no guarantee exists that a person with dementia won’t wander, the following measures can help alleviate concerns for caregivers and family members:
– Engage the person in structured, meaningful activities throughout the day.
– Identify the time of day when wandering is more likely and plan activities or exercises during that time to reduce anxiety and restlessness.
– Ensure basic needs are met, including toileting, nutrition, and hydration. Limiting liquids a few hours before bedtime may prevent nighttime bathroom visits.
– Involve the person in daily activities such as folding laundry or meal preparation.
– Offer reassurance and support if the person feels lost or disoriented.
– If the person can still drive safely, consider using a GPS device.
– If driving is no longer an option, remove access to car keys to prevent attempts to drive.
– Avoid crowded and confusing places like shopping malls.
– Monitor the person’s response to new surroundings and avoid leaving them unsupervised in unfamiliar environments.

For individuals in the early stages of dementia and their caregivers, additional strategies to reduce the risk of wandering include:
– Establishing a set time for daily check-ins.
– Review daily schedules and appointments together.
– Identifying a companion if the primary caregiver is unavailable.
– Exploring alternative transportation options if concerns about getting lost or driving safely arise.

Planning ahead

To address the significant stress experienced by families and caregivers in the event of wandering, it is essential to have a plan in place:
– Consider enrolling the person in a wandering response service.
– Ask neighbors, friends, and family to report any sightings of the person wandering or appearing lost.
– Keep a recent, close-up photo of the person to provide to authorities if necessary.
– Familiarize yourself with the neighborhood and identify potential hazards or areas of concern.
– Create a list of places the person might wander to, such as previous workplaces, former homes, or favorite spots.

Taking action during wandering incidents If someone with dementia goes missing:
– Initiate search efforts immediately, considering the dominant hand’s direction as wandering patterns often follow it.
– Begin searching the surrounding vicinity, as many individuals are found within a 1.5-mile radius of where they disappeared.
– Check local landscapes, such as ponds, tree lines, or fence lines, as individuals may be found within brush or dense foliage.
– Search areas the person has wandered to in the past, if applicable.
– If the person is not found within 15 minutes, call 911 to file a missing person’s report, informing them about the dementia diagnosis.