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What All Caregivers Need to Know About Dementia and Wandering

Nov 5 2015 - Posted by: Marissa Salvesen to Aging & Caregiving

dementia and wanderingIs your aging loved one at risk of wandering?

More than 60 percent of people with Alzheimer’s or an alternate form of dementia will wander, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. While this in itself is reason for concern, the situation grows more dire by the minute: if not found within 24 hours, as many as half of wandering adults will suffer serious injury or even death. What do caregivers need to know to keep their loved ones safe? Let’s take a closer look.

Is Your Aging Loved One At Risk?

Wandering is a common behavior associated with cognitive impairment -- particularly among people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, who can easily become lost due to disorientation.

Wandering can be either goal-oriented or non-goal oriented. In the former, the person may be looking for something or someone; in the latter, wandering may be aimless and with no discernible purpose or reason. Wandering may also lead to elopement -- repeated cases of purposeful ventures from safe areas into unsafe areas. The risks of both wandering and elopement are profound, and can range from traffic accidents to hypothermia due to prolonged exposure to poor weather.

If your aging loved one is struggling with memory loss, disorientation, language, or spatial visualization, he may be at risk for wandering. Additional signs that individuals are at risk for wandering include returning later than usual from walks or drives; attempts to fulfill former responsibilities; requests to “go home,” regardless of current location; restlessness or repetitive motions; difficulty locating familiar places; and feelings of anxiety in crowded areas.

Minimizing Your Loved One's Risk of Wandering

Caregivers can help loved ones reduce the risk of wandering through the following ten strategies:

1. Encourage your loved one to exercise, which may help reduce feelings of agitation and anxiety.

2. Be proactive in meeting all basic nutrition, health, and hygiene needs.

3. Establish a structured routine for daily activities.

4. Offer reassurance when your aging loved one feels disoriented, lost or abandoned.

5. Avoid busy or crowded places which can lead to feelings of confusion or disorientation.

6. Use dead bolts on exterior doors, as well as other security measures, such as motion sensors and alarm systems.

7. As wandering can occur via car as well as by foot, restrict access to car keys.

8. Supervise your aging loved one with dementia at all times when in unfamiliar surroundings.

9. Introduce your aging loved one to neighbors, and inform them that he is prone to wandering.

10. Encourage your aging loved one to go to bed and wake up at regular times as sleeplessness has been linked with wandering.

For an added level of security, the Alzheimer's Association recommends enrolling in the MedicAlert + Alzheimer's Association Safe Return® program. This 24-hour, nationwide emergency service assists in the return effort for individuals who become lost due to wandering. While wandering remains a serious threat for the aging population, understanding the risk factors and taking preventative action can help keep seniors safe while offering peace of mind for caregivers.

Key Takeaways:

  • If your aging loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, he may be at risk of wandering.

  • Individuals with a history of wandering are at increased risk of elopement.

  • Caregivers can help prevent wandering through a number of safety and security measures.

About Marissa Salvesen

I began working for United Methodist Homes in 2010, creating meaningful activities and life-enriching experiences for our seniors as an Activities Director at our Middlewoods of Newington Assisted Living Community. Since then, I have taken on multiple roles within the community and I currently work as the Marketing and Promotions Manager for UMH, fostering the mission, vision, and values of the organization. Our outstanding staff, residents, and families truly make our communities a wonderful place to live and work, which makes my job easy! I love sharing about the many ways we build caring relationships and enrich the lives of those we serve.

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