Alzheimer's Foundation of America

Alzheimer's
Foundation of America

What to do about Wandering

Older man is wandering. This can be dangerous for people with Alzheimer's or dementia

What is Wandering?

It is common for individuals living with Alzheimer’s or dementia to wander away from their caregiver or home. People living with Alzheimer’s or dementia are more likely to walk without a clear destination, or get confused about where they’re going. Wandering can be very dangerous for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia-related illness. They can quickly become disoriented and unable to return to safety. They may not remember who, or how, to call for help.  It’s important for caregivers to be aware of wandering and why it happens to keep the person for whom they are caring safe.

Why does wandering occur?

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).  For instance, 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.

Possible issues to watch out for include:

  • confusion
  • social disengagement
  • boredom or pain
  • hunger or thirst
  • in need of a restroom
  • anxiety
  • emotional distress
  • searching for something from the present or past

What care partners can do about wandering

  • Attention should be paid 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 if an individual wanders

1) Know where to look

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.

2) Keep current information accessible

Ensure current photographs of the individual and their medical information are available.

3) Check to see if your municipality has a Project Lifesaver program

Project Lifesaver is designed to protect and quickly locate individuals with cognitive disorders. Project Lifesaver uses locating devices to aid in the search and rescue of individuals.

4) Get to know your state’s Silver Alert service

Silver alerts are 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.

5) Keep a list of local hospitals

Call in case the individual is admitted to one.

6) Set up tracking

Know the individual’s phone carrier and number to track them by phone.

woman calls the AFA helpline on cell phone to get help with wandering

Have more questions? We’re here to help.

Families affected by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia who have questions or need support can contact AFA’s National Toll-Free Helpline at 866-232-8484 and speak with a licensed, dementia-trained social worker. You can also connect through the chat system by clicking the blue “chat” box on the bottom right hand side of the page. The helpline is open seven days a week.

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