Wandering or getting lost is a common sign of Alzheimer’s or other diseases involving dementia. Noticing that a loved one is consistently going missing is stressful, and it can make you feel concerned for their safety.
If you notice that your loved one is going missing often, or is returning late from meetings or activities, they may be wandering.
Understanding wandering is important for gaining a foundation as to how you can help your loved one stop wandering. Here is everything you need to know about this symptom of dementia.
Anyone who has Alzheimer’s or another disease that involves dementia is at risk for wandering, but there are some signs to watch out for that may be evidence that your loved one is getting lost.
These signs include:
Not all individuals with dementia or other cognitive disabilities wander, but it is a common symptom. There are many different reasons why someone with dementia might wander off.
There might even be visual-spatial reasons as to why an individual with dementia gets lost, as this disease affects parts of the brain that’s important for visual guidance. Sometimes, an individual might even forget where they’re going in their own home.
Wandering isn’t an inherently unsafe thing. It is sometimes an inevitable symptom of dementia and doesn’t pose safety issues if it occurs in a controlled environment. However, wandering can be very dangerous if your loved one leaves home in severe weather conditions or ends up in a secluded location.
There’s no way to fully guarantee that your loved one won’t wander off, but you can try some of these preventative measures to gain peace of mind.
Wandering might be a byproduct of boredom, so if you can keep your loved one occupied you reduce the risk of them leaving the given location. You can give them meaningful activities to complete such as folding laundry or setting a dinner table. This helps to give them a purpose and often comes with the satisfaction of seeing their work completed.
Many patients with dementia will wander at specific times of day, so if you can identify the period when this is most likely to occur, you can schedule activities around that time to ease feelings of agitation and restlessness.
If your loved one experiences sundowning, which is a state of late-day confusion in the evening or late afternoon, it is especially important to try to prevent wandering. It can be much more difficult to locate your loved one in the dark, and it can also be much more unsafe for them to be out at this time depending where they go.
Individuals with dementia may wander to look for food, drinks, or other basic needs. If you can make sure they have easy access to snacks and toileting, you might be able to reduce the risk of them needing to search.
On a somewhat counterintuitive note, you may want to consider reducing the amount of liquid they drink a few hours before bed so they don’t need to wake in the middle of the night to use the restroom.
People with dementia can wander in other ways besides walking. If your loved one no longer drives, remove their access to car keys. They may forget that they can no longer drive and get into an accident just by trying to swing by the grocery store.
You can make sure your home is “wander proof” by doing a few things to prevent your loved one’s ability to leave. Place deadbolt locks in high or low locations on exterior doors so that they are unable to reach them. Additionally, you can install warning bells, cameras, or security systems so you or a caretaker is alerted when someone tries to leave the building.
Wandering inside the home may be unstoppable, but you can make it safer so that your loved one doesn’t get hurt. Use night lights throughout the house so they can always see where they are going. Also, consider creating common areas that can be safely explored with less potential for tripping or falling.
You may also want to label doors in your home so they know the function of each room before entering. This can help prevent them from accidentally opening an exterior door and wandering outside when trying to locate a bathroom or bedroom.
It can be very scary when your family member with dementia becomes lost, but there are some things you can do to locate them quickly. The first course of action is to remain calm. Most individuals who wander can be found within just 1.5 miles of where they went missing.
If you have not located the individual within 15 minutes, call 911 and file a missing person’s report. Be sure to inform authorities that the individual has dementia, as they may not remember who they are when found.
Wandering might happen no matter how many preventative measures are put in place. However, there are some things you can do to make it easier for our loved one to be found quickly and safely.
First, have the person carry an ID or wear a medical bracelet that can be easily identified. If a person notices that someone is wandering, they may approach them and be able to return them to you safely. Better yet, have them wear a GPS tracking bracelet that gives you the ability to locate them no matter where they go.
You can also try enrolling them into a safe-return program. For a small fee, they’ll receive an ID bracelet and you’ll receive access to 24 hour support in case of emergency.
Wandering is a common symptom of dementia, but that doesn’t make it any less stressful and scary for family members involved. Wandering often occurs when a dementia patient is searching for something, trying to escape a stressful situation, or is trying to obtain a basic need.
If you notice that a loved one is returning home late, mentioning past activities that they no longer do, or is having trouble remembering familiar locations, they may be at risk for wandering.
You can help prevent wandering by identifying times of day when it occurs, ensuring that they have activities lined up during those moments. It may also be helpful to take away their car keys if they no longer drive, and prepare their home with labeled doors and security systems to monitor their whereabouts.
If they do wander off, search as soon as possible within a 1.5 mile radius. Look in natural landscapes or in past locations where they’ve gone missing before. If it’s been more than 15 minutes, contact 911.
Your loved one may also benefit from psychiatric care or a specialist service like the Lightyear Health. Our professional psychiatrists with experience in geriatric behavioral healthcare are highly skilled in helping to reduce unsafe behaviors associated with wandering.
Contact us today to see how we can help put your mind at ease.