The risk of wandering is one of the issues that family caregivers may have when taking care of a person with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer Society of British Columbia, “Wandering is a common behaviour associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.” Dementia wandering may occur at any stage of the disease although it’s more common in the middle stages or later stages of dementia.
Dementia wandering may occur at any stage of the disease although it’s more common in the middle stages or later stages of dementia.
Reasons for wandering
The Alzheimer Society of B.C. gives us a few reasons why people living with dementia may wander:
- The illness, or the medications they are taking, may cause agitation, delusions, and hallucinations.
- The person in your care could be trying to return home because they feel disoriented or insecure in their new living situation.
- They are trying to escape from sensory overload caused by their surroundings such as loud noises, big crowds, flashing lights, etc.
- They could be reliving old familiar routines such as going to work or running errands.
- They are looking for ways to relieve boredom, hunger, discomfort, or pain.
- They are looking for someone they know.
How to prevent wandering with a dementia care plan
As a family caregiver, you may have observed the person in your care wandering. Safety is a priority for people who experience wandering due to dementia. Here are a few practical tips for caregivers to help reduce the risk of wandering for the person in your care:
- Talk to a health care professional. They may be able to adjust the medications for fewer side effects.
- Install locks on exterior doors that are out of their reach and sight (for example, above eye level or at the bottom of the door).
- Consider camouflaging the exterior door by painting it the same colour as the wall. Other ways to disguise the door are with curtains, posters, or mirrors.
- Use devices such as a bell or alarm system to alert you when doors or windows are opened.
- Hide car keys.
- Sign up for the nationwide MedicAlert® Safely Home® program, which is designed to help identify a lost person with dementia and assist in returning them home safely.
- Inform your friends and neighbours about the situation. They may be able to help supervise the person in your care or let you know if they see the person outside and on their own.
What to do if someone with dementia has wandered
It’s important for you to remember that dementia wandering may still occur despite all of the safety precautions that you’ve taken. If the person in your care wanders away from home:
- Alert the police and let them know if the person in your care is part of the MedicAlert® Safely Home® program. You should also provide details about any possible locations that the person in your care may be at such as a former workplace, previous home address, or favourite place to visit.
- Do a quick search of the area where the person was last seen.
- Check for keys to the vehicle plus any other items that may provide a clue as to where they may have gone.
- Alert your friends and neighbours that the person in your care is missing. Organize a search party but ensure that someone stays at home just in case the person in your care returns.
The issue of dementia wandering and the dangers associated with it can be stressful for you, the family caregiver, and for the person in your care. An Elizz Caregiver Coach can help you navigate the complex challenges you may face and work with you to establish a simple, personalized, and detailed dementia care plan.
At Elizz, we provide caregiver support for you and home care services for those who depend on you. Elizz is a Canadian company powered by Saint Elizabeth, a national not-for-profit health care organization that has been caring for Canadians since 1908.
You might also like these other Elizz articles entitled 6 Tips for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care at Home and Dementia Related Sleep Problems.