Wandering or getting lost is a common behavior among people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, which no doubt is a dangerous behavior no matter what stage of the disease they are in. Once the individual begins to show signs of wandering behaviors, they are at high risk of wandering away or becoming lost, which increases their risk for serious injury making wandering a serious concern for families caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Six in 10 people with dementia will wander when they become confused or disoriented, which can happen at any stage of the disease. It is essential to take measures to prevent wandering and know what to do during an emergency. Wandering among people with dementia is dangerous and can be very distressing for the caregivers, but there are strategies to help prevent it.
While the exact causes of wandering behavior are not fully understood, there are a few common triggers. Here are some scenarios that can lead to wandering:
Boredom– A common reason why adults with Alzheimer’s wander is because they are bored which might be due to the fact that they don’t get enough stimulation, and he or she might be looking for something to do. Keep your loved one engaged through conversation, find activities to keep them busy, enlist their help with simple household chores.
Stress or fear– Your loved one might wander as a reaction to an unfamiliar setting like after they move to a new home or visit a new location, a loud noise, or a situation he or she doesn’t understand. Preventive measures include selecting familiar restaurants when going out to eat, planning short day trips instead of overnight stays, there should always be someone they are comfortable with around at all times.
Lack of physical activity– Not getting enough exercise is often a trigger, which makes them resort to wandering to burn excess energy. What you can do is incorporate a walk into their daily routine or put a stationary bike in place where they can exercise or you can introduce a rocking chair to fulfill their desire to move.
Basic Needs– He or she might be looking for a washroom or food, or want to go outdoors. Ensure all basic needs, such as toileting, nutrition, and thirst are met periodically throughout the day.
Other reasons why a person who has Alzheimer’s might wander:
The best ways to reduce feelings of disorientation is by keeping them in familiar setting to keep them from feeling displaced and adhering to a routine to reduce the chances they’ll forget what they are doing.
Wandering isn’t necessarily harmful provided it occurs in a safe and controlled environment. You need to get to the root of why the wandering might be happening to prevent unsafe wandering. Create a safe environment by installing door or window alarms, securing car keys, there should be locks on doors and special latches where needed, installing a fence around the house with a lockable gate, childproofing door knob covers, obtaining a location tracking device for the person (invest in a GPS device), and most importantly, not leaving the person alone at home or in a car. Manage restless behaviors with activities to keep the person occupied, regular physical exercise, adequate sleep, and reporting behavior changes or increased confusion to the person’s doctor.
Remember, there should always be a safety plan in place and a phone tree to alert friends and family. It’s a great idea to notify local businesses and neighbors prior to an occurrence of wandering to increase awareness of your loved one’s condition and tendencies. If your loved one wanders away, don’t panic, call 911 and notify police right away.
If you are concerned about your ability to prevent your loved ones from wandering, it’s time that you consider assisted living. Many assisted living facilities, including Senior Sanctuary of Anthem- an award-winning senior living in Anthem facility in Phoenix- have specialized dementia care that are designed to prevent residents from wandering.