Why Do People With Dementia Wander?

Wandering Causes, Prevention, Safety Tips, & Statistics

One of the most dangerous behaviors associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease is wandering. Taking the steps to prevent wandering can keep your loved one safe and ensure that they aren’t at risk outside of their home. Alzheimer’s wandering creates a hazard for those who have it and others as they can become lost, confused, disoriented, or injured from exposure to harsh weather or other safety risks.

Common Reasons for Wandering

Wandering is a fairly common occurrence among individuals with dementia. There are a variety of reasons why people with dementia may wander, including:

  • Agitation – A common symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease, agitation can be made worse by medications. The resulting anxiety, nervousness and restlessness can cause them to wander.
  • Stress or fear – They may want to move or leave their current area as they are stressed or scared because of an unfamiliar situation or environment.
  • Searching – Looking for someone or something because they are in an environment or frame of mind that they do not understand in their current reality.
  • Boredom – Similar to searching, looking for something to do.
  • Basic Needs – They may be looking for a restroom, food, water, or want to be outside.
  • Previous events – They may be trying to follow previous routines (going to work, buying groceries, meeting friends/spouse).

When is Wandering an Issue?

The act of wandering isn’t necessarily harmful, as long as it occurs within a secure and controlled environment. In fact, professionals encourage wandering because it’s a form of exercise and movement that is beneficial. However, wandering can be a matter of life and death, posing safety issues if preventative measures aren’t taken. Exiting a secure and controlled environment can lead the individual into harmful weather, unfamiliar areas, rough terrain and dangerous roadways.

Routines with similar activities each day provide beneficial structure. If you can identify times of the day or particular behavior that triggers the act of wandering, then you may be able to implement meaningful activities to keep your loved one better engaged. If the individual is waiting for family/friends, provide reassurance that they will be visiting soon to help reduce anxiety, stress and searching. If they are looking to go to work, have them get dressed for work and perform some work functions like sorting or filing paperwork.

How to Prevent Dementia Patients From Wandering

Taking preventative measures is an important step in removing the risk of wandering. Ensure that basic needs are met, hazards are reduced, and security features are in place so that if it does occur, you’ll be alerted or notified.

  • Make sure basic needs are met. Measures include toileting, nutrition and thirst so that the individual isn’t searching to satisfy their basic human needs. Clearly label areas (kitchen, restroom, etc.) and provide a clear, well-lit path to these areas.
  • Safeguard their spaces by reducing common hazards. This includes removing clutter (excess boxes, wall décor, furniture), securing dangerous objects (harmful liquids and products, sharp objects), eliminating tripping hazards (extension cords, throw rugs) and ensuring well-lit areas and signage (Stop, Restroom, Kitchen) are available for identification purposes.
  • Secure their area with physical barriers and technology. This will impede the range they are able to roam. A fence outside of the property is a great physical barrier. Additionally, you can install security alarms and safety technologies such as door, driveway and bed sensors to notify you of any movement. Other deterrents include door locks, cupboard latches, and window closures. If your loved one is prone to finding their way through these security features, wearable trackers or GPS devices (necklaces, bracelets and shoes) will help you locate them.

If your loved one wanders and you are unable to find them, search the immediate area for no more than 15 minutes. Then call “911” and report to the police that a person with Alzheimer’s disease — a “vulnerable adult” — is missing. A Missing Persons Report should be filed, and the police will begin to search for the individual. (Source: Alzheimer’s Association)

Alzheimer’s Wandering Statistics

  • It is estimated that 6 in 10 people with Alzheimer’s Disease are at risk of wandering when they become confused or disoriented.
  • There are about 30,000 cases of wandering reported each year, while the estimated total number (reported and unreported) is 125,000. (Source: Alzheimer’s Reading Room)

While wandering is a dangerous behavior that is associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia, there are ways to prevent and manage risk. Osprey Village is proud to provide this educational material to help caregivers, family and friends to remain confident in the face of this disease. Click here to schedule an appointment.