Wandering is a common behavior among individuals living with a dementia-related illness. It is also potentially dangerous, as someone with a dementia-related illness who wanders can quickly become disoriented, unable to return to safety or not know how, or who, to call for help. It’s important for caregivers to be aware of this behavior in an effort to keep the person for whom they are caring safe.
What caregivers should watch for
Wandering often stems from an unmet need or desire for purpose and is sometimes a form of communication (individuals may have difficulty expressing themselves with words as the disease progresses). Individuals may leave their homes because they believe they need to go to work, even if they are retired. Others are looking for someone or something.
Issues to watch out for include:
- social disengagement
- boredom or pain
- hunger or thirst
- in need of a restroom
- emotional distress
- searching for something from the present or past
What caregivers can do
- Pay attention to the individual’s patterns (frequency, duration, time of day, etc.), and prepare activities that can be used to redirect their attention, as needed.
- Provide opportunities for socialization and engagement for the individual. Keeping busy can help to stimulate and engage. Consider recreational or other therapeutic activities, such as art or music.
- Ensure the person’s basic needs (food, beverages, restroom, etc.) are met.
- Use medical identification bracelets, necklaces, and tracking devices for monitoring.
- Install electronic chimes or doorbells on doors so someone is alerted if the individual tries to exit; but be mindful of how this alert can impact the individual.
- Reduce environmental stimuli, such as loud noises or crowds, which can be disorienting.
How to be prepared
- Know the individual’s past and present favorite spots in the area. In the event they wander from home, this will help when looking for them.
- Ensure current photographs of the individual and their medical information are available.
- Check to see if your municipality has a Project Lifesaver program, designed to protect and quickly locate individuals with cognitive disorders. Project Lifesaver uses locating devices to aid in the search and rescue of individuals.
- Familiarize yourself with your state’s public alert (Silver Alert) service, a notification system that broadcasts information about missing persons—especially individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other cognitive disorders—in order to solicit aid in locating them. Understand how to contact your police department and how to call 911 in an emergency situation.
- Keep a list of local hospitals in case the individual is admitted to one.
- Know the individual’s phone carrier and number to track them by phone.
Families affected by Alzheimer’s disease who have questions or need support can contact AFA’s National Toll-Free Helpline at 866-232-8484 and speak with a licensed social worker or connect through the Internet by clicking the blue “chat” box on the bottom right hand side of the page. The helpline is open seven days a week.