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Alzheimer's Series: Wandering

Wandering is not only frightening for everyone, it can be dangerous and even life-threatening for the person with Alzheimer’s disease. Six out of every 10 people with Alzheimer’s will wander and get lost, becoming disoriented and confused, even in their own neighborhood. Many are unable to remember their name or address as they wander about, possibly searching for something they think is lost, or trying to complete a former task from work. So what can you do to help? Understanding the causes and behavior of a person who is at risk may help you to prepare for and prevent wandering.

What Causes Wandering?

There are several factors that can contribute to wandering behavior, including:

  • Side effects of medication.
  • Feeling upset, nervous or restless.
  • Confusion about time.
  • Inability to recognize familiar people or places.
  • Fear of unfamiliar sights and sounds.


High-Risk Behavior

Certain behaviors may indicate that a person is at particular risk, such as:

  • Restlessness, pacing or repetitive movements.
  • Returning late from a walk or drive.
  • Trying to go to work or some other former activity.
  • Having a hard time finding the bathroom, bedroom or other familiar place.
  • Wanting to or trying to “go home,” even when at home.
  • Feeling lost in a new or different place.
  • Seeming busy with an activity, but actually accomplishing nothing.


What To Do

You can help reduce wandering with these simple ideas:

  • Make sure all basic needs are met, such as food, beverages and toilet visits.
  • Involve your loved one in simple daily activities, such as folding clothes or preparing meals.
  • Replace anxiety and restlessness with enjoyable activities, such as gardening or music.
  • Plan activities at times when wandering usually occurs.
  • Provide reassurance if your loved one feels lost, disoriented or abandoned.
  • Never leave a person with dementia alone, either locked in the house or in a car.
  • Keep the house quiet and calm and provide safe places to explore.
  • Cover your doorknobs with a fabric that matches the door color to camouflage them.
  • Install slide bolts at the top or bottom of doors, out of the line of sight.


In Case Of Emergency

It’s a good idea to be prepared for your loved one wandering away. There are a number of things you can do at home to alert you to wandering, including door alarms, monitoring devices that alert you when he or she is moving about and camouflage tricks for entry doors. In addition, the following steps will help you prepare for an emergency:

  • Inform your neighbors of your loved one’s condition and make a list of their names and phone numbers.
  • Ask friends, family and neighbors to call immediately if they spot your loved one alone.
  • Keep a current head and shoulders photo of your loved one available to show police.
  • Keep a list of places where the person is likely to go.
  • Familiarize yourself with dangerous areas near your home where the individual could get lost, injured or encounter heavy traffic.
  • Wandering may be on foot, in a car or on public transportation.
  • Keep a list of your doctors' names and numbers, as well as a list of all current medications with the dosages.

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