In this post, we will look at how to prevent wandering in dementia patients.
A large number of people living with dementia wander. Studies have found that this affects a staggering 6 in 10 people living with dementia!
If you have a relative or loved one who is living with dementia who is wandering, it can be a very worrisome time. Your anxiety over their safety can be overwhelming if you don’t put practical strategies in place to prevent it from happening again.
Below we will go over the reasons why someone with dementia will wander, how you can prevent it, and what to do if a relative is wandering. After this post, you’ll be able to ensure their safety and relieve some of the worries you experience on a daily basis.
Why is wandering such a common occurrence with dementia?
Many people with memory problems wander. As we’ve covered, this is a common occurrence in people living with dementia. With dementia and Alzheimer’s, the memory begins to fade. Which for many reasons, can cause them to be disorientated, lost and confused.
Reasons for wandering:
There are many reasons why someone with dementia will wander. The case for your loved one may be very different to someone else. So if you find your loved one wandering you should try and understand the reason why. Find out what they are trying to achieve, or where they want to go. If you can nail down their reason for wandering you will be more successful in preventing it from happening.
Some common reasons for wandering include:
1. Loss of visual and navigational functions
Dementia can affect the part of the brain that’s needed for visual guidance and navigation.
Sundowning is when a person living with dementia can become confused, anxious, aggressive or even stubborn during late afternoons through to the night. It’s common for sundowning to cause wandering.
3. Memory loss leading to confusion
In dementia, the recent recall or short term memories are the first memories affected. So it is usual for someone living with dementia to be in the middle of doing something, and then suddenly forget their intention. It may be the case that they are out in public and suddenly forget where they are and what they’re doing, leaving them lost, confused and unable to get home.
4. Fear to an unfamiliar environment or perceived threat
The smallest thing could frighten someone with dementia. Whether it’s a noise or an unfamiliar person. Once scared they may attempt to escape the situation, but find themselves lost and alone.
5. Reminiscence Bump
The reminiscence bump is when someone living with dementia believes a time period in their past is actually their new reality. This can make them act out responsibilities from their younger days such as heading for work or to find their childhood home.
6. Basic needs
They may be looking for a bathroom or somewhere to eat.
7. Boredom and agitation
They may become bored or agitated and not know what to do, therefore begin wandering in search of something to do.
8. Looking for someone or something
Maybe they suddenly had an idea to do something or see someone. I had a friend whose grandmother would wander at night and when they found her she’d always say she was going on her date with Michael Bublé!
9. Make a list of their favourite or familiar spots
Have on hand a list of places your loved one may wander to. This could be a friend’s house, a favourite book shop, church, cafe or even their former job.
How to prevent wandering in dementia patients
Whether changing your care plan, securing the home, using GPS technology or enlisting professional help, there are many ways to prevent your loved one from wandering.
Making changes to your care
1. Look for patterns in behaviour
Watch for patterns to your loved one’s behaviour. It is often the case that people living with dementia repeat actions throughout the day. You may notice there are certain triggers that cause the wandering, then you can be more successful in putting a stop to it. For example, if your loved one wanders at a certain time of day, you can put in place activities at this time to distract from the wandering. Give them a repetitive activity such as sweeping, rocking in a chair or folding clothes.
2. Increase in physical Activity
You could introduce a physical activity during the day to help prevent wandering in the evenings and night. This can work especially if your loved one is wandering due to agitation.
3. Ensure healthy sleep
Poor quality sleep has been linked with wandering. The best way to improve sleep patterns is to establish a routine sleep and wake bedtime routine. Exclude caffeinated drinks and try to eliminate a day time nap.
4. Check all basic needs are met
By ensuring your loved one is fed, hydrated, toilet needs are met then this may reduce wandering.
5. Check medication
Have a chat with a doctor to ensure that the medication they are on doesn’t cause the wandering.
6. Chat with your community
Inform your neighbours of the wandering. This way if they see your loved one leaving the house they can confidently bring them back home or alert you. You can also inform the local police and provide pictures so they are easily recognised and can return them home safely if found.
7. Declutter the home
Some people living with dementia like to pace, but if the home is cluttered they are looking for a large open space to walk. Declutter the home so they can enjoy pacing at home without tripping or falling over obstacles.
8. Medical ID bracelet
If your loved one wanders often you could get a medical identification bracelet with their name and emergency contact number with the ‘Memory Loss’. You can purchase these in many
9. Keep daily pictures
It may be a good idea to even take a daily picture of your loved one so if they do wander and go missing you know exactly what they are wearing to inform the search party. You can even go so far as dressing them in brightly coloured clothing so they are easily recognised. But ensure they like wearing these clothes first.
10. Introduce a daily routine.
Reduce sundowning by introducing a daily activity plan. Be sure to include reminiscence activities. This will not only stimulate memory revival from past events but it will also reduce boredom and agitation making them less likely to wander.
Making changes to the home security
As well as making changes to the care, you can also make vital changes to your home security.
11. Door alarms
You can install door sensors that emit a loud sound when opened. You can also put this on windows too. This way every time a door or window is opened you are alerted with a loud sound. A low-cost way to do this is to put bells on the door.
12. Door locks
You can move door locks to an unfamiliar place, such as tight at the top of the door or at the bottom out of sight.
13. Door disguises
You can have fake door knobs on doors that turn when touched, so your loved one has the feeling of opening a door without it actually opening.
Putting bright and large STOP signs or DO NOT ENTER on doors can be enough to prevent them from wandering.
If the stop signs don’t work you can camouflage doors so you loved one doesn’t recognise there is a door there. Use the same wallpaper or paint as the walls or even cover them with posters that look like a bookshelf. Or quite simply you can hang curtains in front of doors.
16. Locks and key storage
Put up new locks on doors and keep keys hidden away out of sight.
17. Put up a fence around the home
If you want your loved one to enjoy their home and garden freely, consider using effective outside fencing to secure the area with a lockable outdoor gate.
18. Keep shoes and coats out of sight.
If your loved one spots the shoe and coat rack it may make them want to put them on and head outside. Hide these items out of sight.
Please note: Never leave a loved one living with dementia locked inside the house alone!
19. GPS tracking and Radio tracking
There are medical alert systems and personal emergency alert systems that you can bring into the home. They are usually used in the case of falls, but you can also get some with GPS tracking for when people wander.
You can also get medical bracelets with radio tracking within short range, they work by sounding an alarm when your loved one gets too far away.
You can get GPS tracking devices in the form of shoes, bracelets, watches, necklaces and anklet bracelets.
What to do when your loved one wanders
If your loved one does wander, here’s what you can do to ensure a safe home return if they are not wearing a GPS tracking device.
- Refer to your list of familiar places. If you can’t find them after 15 minutes inform the authorities right away.
- Call anyone you can to help.
- Show a recent photo to the police and other search parties.
- Are they left or right-handed, wanderers usually walk in the direction of their dominant hand.
We hope that the above information can help you in your situation with wandering with dementia. If you’re looking after a loved one with dementia you may find our blog post on what to do when a parent with dementia refuses help here.