Why Do Dementia Patients Wander?

You may notice your loved one who suffers from dementia tends to wander off. Wandering is common for those with dementia. This can be frustrating to deal with and potentially endanger your loved one.  However there are ways to prevent wandering in dementia patients. 

When a dementia patient is looking for someone or something they can start wandering. They also may be feeling anxious, scared, frustrated or overstimulated and attempt to simply walk away from the situation. Although some people may leave with a specific end goal in mind they can often become disoriented or confused. In other cases they may be looking for something that’s impossible to find or just in their mind.  An example can be an old friend or relative. 

What Activities Can Cause Wandering?

An activity as simple as getting the mail or just walking into a new room can cause wandering. Following old routines and taking on old responsibilities can also lead to disorientation that results in wandering. Old routines may include driving to work every morning and old responsibilities may include cooking dinner for the family.   

Wandering At Night

Wandering off at night is most often caused by sleeping conditions. These include the room being too hot or cold, discomfort or even boredom. Another reason for wandering at night includes the dementia patient believing they need to be somewhere else or have a prior obligation, such as going to work or picking someone up. 

What are the Warning Signs? 

Warning signs of wandering include dementia patients forgetting directions to places they’re already familiar with, trouble navigating their own home, discussing obligations they no longer have (such as picking up their child from school), anxiety in crowds or unfamiliar settings, frequently failing to complete tasks, incorrectly judging the distance between objects or perceiving 3D objects as 2D, pacing and repeating phases or motions and trying to go home when they already are. 

Prevention Measures

Below are eight effective steps you can take to prevent dementia wandering:

  1. Redirection and Validation: Instead of just telling your loved one they can’t go to work redirect them to another task. Explain to them why there’s no need for them to go to the grocery store and ask questions related to the place they’re trying to wander off to. 
  2. Label: Label rooms in the house or even the furniture. If your loved one knows which seat they prefer to sit in that may prevent frustration when looking for a place to relax.
  3. Hide signs of leaving: Keep items such as car keys out of sight, seeing these will make them feel as if they’re supposed to go out and do something. This is important if the senior you care for no longer can drive.
  4. Plan activities: Make sure they’re engaged. Seniors who are bored throughout the day are much more likely to wander, keeping their mind busy and working is important. 
  5. Reduce confusion: Try and create a calming environment, free of overstimulation such as loud noises.
  6. Obscure doors: Door coverings and/or door mats can stop the urge to leave and may prove helpful.
  7. Supervision: During the late stages of dementia continuous supervision is critical.  Especially in unfamiliar places such as shopping, its important to stay with your loved one at all times so they don’t wander off.
  8. Set your home up: Bells on doors, fencing in the yard, motion sensors and childproofing door knobs and cabinet handles can help keep your loved one safe when wandering does occur.