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Wandering and Dementia

Wandering is a common matter occurring with those living with dementia. Of those with dementia living in the community, 1 in 5 will face this issue. There are various types of wandering, including pacing, elopement and becoming lost. Wandering, alike to the progression of dementia, is noted to worsen over time. Wandering can lead to costly search efforts, injuries, and even the death of the wanderer.

Preventive steps are recommended to reduce wandering behaviors, as well as having an action plan to implement if a person wanders.

Tips to reduce wandering:

  • Identify the time of the day a person is most likely to wander (for some, during “sundowning”). Plan structured activities to reduce emotions like restlessness, anxiousness, etc, during these times.
  • Involve the person with dementia in meaningful tasks (like household chores) and enjoyable activities throughout the day. Creating a daily schedule or plan may be beneficial for some individuals.
  • If the person is no longer driving, remove keys from the home or keep the keys out of sight, and consider disabling the vehicle altogether if not needed.
  • Leave doors open throughout the home, like the door to the bathroom and bedroom, but only if it is safe for the person to enter those rooms. Place deadbolts or locks out of the line of sight on exterior doors or interior doors to unsafe regions of the home. Never lock a person unsupervised in a home or room. Covering door handles or knobs with cloth the same color as the door may deter some people from using the door. Door alarms may be used to notify you when a door is opened.
  • Avoid busy places that can create disorientation or confusion (new surroundings) at times when a person is likely to wander.

Planning & Taking Action:

  • Create a list of places a person may wander, and keep a recent photo of the person (ideally, a close-up clearly illustrating the appearance of the person) in case of an emergency.
  • Ask neighbors, family, and/or friends to call if they see the person lost, wandering, or inappropriately dressed.
  • When wandering occurs, search efforts should begin immediately (helpful hint, a person who wanders generally follows the direction of their dominant hand, although this is not always the case).
  • Consider having the person with dementia wear an ID bracelet or fall detection device with a GPS feature.
  • If the person who has wandered has not been located within 15 minutes, call 911 and inform emergency responders that the person who is missing has dementia.