Dementia Wandering and Prevention

Wandering is commonly seen in those with disorders that cause dementia. According to the Alzheimer's Association, 6 out of 10 people living with dementia will wander at least once, many will do so repeatedly and wandering can occur at any stage of dementia. In those with dementia, wandering can be dangerous, it is common for them to become lost or confused as to where they are, unintentionally putting themselves at risk. To address wandering it is important to first understand what wandering is, consider what can be done to prevent it and modify the home to create a safer environment.

Understanding - what causes wandering in people living with dementia

Signs of wandering could be having challenges remembering how to get to a familiar place or coming back from a regular drive or walk later than to be expected. There are many reasons why a person living with dementia may wander.

  • Wander as a reaction to stress or fear.

  • Searching for basic needs like a bathroom, outdoors or food.

  • Following past routines.

  • Getting lost or confused searching for something.

  • Dementia affects the part of the brain that is critical to visual guidance and navigation.

Prevention - assess individual needs to help avoid wandering for those living with dementia

To help prevent wandering it is important to assess the individual. Try to determine how they respond to different surroundings and what time of day they are most likely to wander. If you understand what surroundings may be triggering, potentially a crowded or loud room, you would be able to avoid those situations. Additionally, if the time of day when wandering is most common activities can be scheduled around that time to create a healthy distraction. Other actions to take to help prevent weathering are as follows.

  • Ensure basic needs are provided. For those living with dementia, it may be beneficial to reduce liquids up to two hours before bed to reduce the need to use the toilet in the middle of the night.

  • Involve those living with dementia to participate in daily activities to help create a daily routine.

  • If someone is feeling lost, abandoned or disorientated, reassure the person.

  • If the individual can drive safely, try utilizing a GPS to help prevent them from getting lost.

  • Provide supervision especially in a new or changed environment. And avoid leaving them alone in the car.

Protection - changes to the home to help those who wander

Continuing to try to understand what may cause someone to wander will help to develop and create changes to the home that best suits the individual. Simple changes to the home create a safer environment for someone that tends to wander. The following suggestions should be tailored to the individual and should allow the individual as much freedom as safely possible.

  • Where appropriate use alarms and locks. Pressure-sensitive alarm mats at the door or bedside can alert a caregiver that the individual is moving.

  • Consider camouflaging doors and locks. This can be done by placing curtains over a door or using paint or wallpaper that matches the surrounding wall.

  • Use night lights around the home.

  • Use hedges or a fence to create secure outdoor spaces.

  • Avoid excessive stimulation by monitoring noise.

  • Use signs and symbols to show the purpose of each room.

  • Properly store items that may trigger a person to leave. These could be keys, coats or hats.

When someone living with dementia begins to wander it can be challenging not only for those with dementia but also for the caregivers. Understanding wandering, looking at ways to prevent it when appropriate and adjusting the home environment to be safer are important considerations for caregivers to aid in wandering.

NHS and Alzheimer’s Association provide detailed information about dementia wandering and how to cope with it. You can also visit Mylo, for further information on designing a dementia-friendly environment and dementia care.

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