What is Wandering?
If you’re caring for a senior or older adult suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, they may tend to wander -- around the hospital, around their house, or even down the street.
A common behavior among adults facing these diseases, wandering is a serious issue that can become dangerous. They’re at high risk for getting lost and are exposed to potential accidents.
Fortunately, there are signs to look out for and steps you can take to prepare for if your loved one accidentally walks away.
Causes of Wandering
While the exact causes of wandering are not fully understood, it may occur in some individuals who are searching for something or trying to get back to a place they remember. Sometimes people wander or walk away simply because they are restless or agitated.
Other possible causes of wandering include:
- Unable to comprehend instructions such as waiting/staying in the car or the house
- Wanting to go home (even when they are home)
- A sudden change in routine
- A reaction to something seen or heard
- Onset of delirium
- Basic needs- searching for food, a bathroom, etc.
- Fear, stress, or boredom
Warning Signs of Wandering
Anyone who has memory problems and can walk can show signs of wandering. According to an article by the Alzheimer’s Association, “6 in 10 people living with dementia will wander at least once; many do so repeatedly”.
There are certain things people might say or do that are at risk for wandering. Here are some common warning signs:
- “I want to go home”
- “I have to go shopping”
- “I have to go to work”
- They don’t remember to come back to the house after being outside
- They don’t recognize the house anymore, or their family’s faces
- Pacing, restlessness
- Increasing forgetfulness
You want your loved one to be safe no matter what stage of Alzheimer’s they may be in (stages can vary when wandering occurs), but it can be difficult. Although there are many signs to look out for and many possible causes, there are ways your family can prepare for such episodes and prevent disaster in cases of wandering.
5 Ways to Prevent Wandering and Prepare for Emergencies
1. Mark Your Doors
When your senior is trying doors that lead outside, they’re often just confused and looking for the bathroom, bedroom, or kitchen. Make these doors easier to find by putting big signs or pictures on them indicating they’re in the right place.
For exterior doors, put large signs that say “Do Not Enter” that include pictures of stop signs up. Many people with dementia won’t open doors with those types of signs. Another way to discourage adults from using those doors is to camouflage them. If they can’t see the door, most likely they won’t find them. Try hanging curtains and only slide them open when necessary.
2. Install Locks and Alarms
Home safety modifications can make it hard for wandering adults to get outside. Things like child-proof door knobs, extra locks, and alarms on doors and windows can prove essential. For locks on doors, install them high up out of the sightline of your loved one.
However, be cognizant of fire safety measures for all members of your household. These safety modifications should be easily accessible for anyone else in the house without cognitive disabilities.
3. Identification Measures
Every morning, take a picture of your loved one once they’re dressed. This way you’ll always have a recent photo with the clothes they’re wearing to show law enforcement should they manage to get lost. Also, create ID labels to sew or iron onto their clothing that includes contact information.
Alert your surrounding neighbors of their potential wandering habits, ways to stop and distract them, and give them your contact information.
4. Solve Trigger Warnings Before Wandering
Whatever causes you’ve noticed that onsets wandering, diffuse them. Oftentimes that requires fibs like saying it’s a federal holiday and the office is closed if they’re trying to ‘go to work.’ Fill their day with activities if their trigger is boredom or restlessness. Think creatively and find solutions for keeping your loved one engaged.
5. The Right Level of Care
Ultimately, wandering can be very difficult to manage in older adults, especially for family caregivers. CarePatrol is here to help with senior living when your loved one can no longer stay at home safely. We are your partner in care, working with older adults and their families to find the safest, happiest living environment. We know how challenging the aging process can be, and we have experience with even the most sensitive situations. Our dedicated team has helped thousands of seniors find safer senior living, and we can help your older loved ones as well.