Wandering is a challenge faced by many caregivers of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that six in ten people with dementia will wander. Furthermore, wandering can happen at any stage of the disease. Seniors with dementia may become disoriented and unable to remember their name and address.
Caregivers must know how to limit wandering to prevent seniors with dementia from becoming lost and getting in potentially dangerous situations. Luckily, there are prevention strategies to minimize the risk of wandering.
The first step to preventing wandering among people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is recognizing its cause. It may be helpful to keep a log. Note the time, date, and surrounding events of the wanderer’s patterns, if a cause does not seem clear.
Common causes that trigger someone with dementia to wandering include:
• Unfamiliar environment
• Seeing his or her coat and hat and deciding to leave
• Confrontational situations
• Changes in schedule or routine (such as moving to a new facility)
• Medication changes
• Being left alone in a car
• Being uncomfortable, agitated, or bored
Upon identifying the cause, it becomes easier to take measures to reduce the behavior. There are many strategies to prevent wandering. They may include:
• Consult a physician regarding medication side effects.
• Make sure the person carries a form of ID or medical bracelet that informs others of the person’s illness and provides their home address.
• Ensure that basic needs are met. These may include hunger, thirst, comfort, toileting, fear, or boredom.
• Maintain a daily schedule of activities to provide routine and structure.
• Encourage activities and exercise to reduce anxiety, agitation, and restlessness.
This may include walking, dancing, group exercises, or sitting in a rocking chair. Plan these activities at the time of day that the person is most likely to wander.
• Allow the individual control over aspects of their life, such as activities or food selection.
• Avoid extended interactions with large groups of people.
• Avoid busy places, such as shopping malls or grocery stores, which could cause disorientation.
• If night wandering is an issue, restrict fluids two hours before bed and make sure the person uses the restroom before bed.
• Keep “triggers” out of sight. These may include car keys, coats, hats, or other items that could plant the idea that it’s time to leave.
• Never leave the person with dementia home or in a car without supervision.
• Provide companionship and one-on-one attention.
• Keep doors locked. Consider a keyed deadbolt or additional lock placed high or low on the door. If the person with dementia can open a lock, it may need to be replaced.
• Consider enrolling the individual in the Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return Program (learn more at alz.org ).
• Camouflage doors and doorknobs by painting them the same color as the walls, or covering them with curtains, posters, or other objects to divert attention away from exiting.
• Use devices to announce when an exterior door is opened. This can be as simple as a bell hung from a doorknob, or as sophisticated as an electric alarm that chimes when a door opens.
In addition to taking preventative measures, caregivers should have a plan in place in case their loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia does wanders.
Make sure that neighbors, friends, and family are aware of the person’s condition and ask them to call if they ever see the person alone. Also, keep a list of people to call for help in the event that an individual with Alzheimer’s or dementia wanders or is missing.
It is also a good idea to have a list of potential places where the individual might wander. Consider past jobs, former homes, places of worship, or favorite restaurants.
Encourage the individual to carry or wear a GPS device to help manage their location.
Keep a recent photo of the individual as well as their up-to-date medical information to give to police. If the person does wander, search the immediate area for no more than 15 minutes before calling the police to report that a person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia – a “vulnerable adult” – is missing.
Planning ahead and taking preventative actions will help keep people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia safe and provide their loved ones and caregivers with greater peace of mind.