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Alzheimer’s and Wandering

Dementia can erase memories of familiar places and make it difficult to adjust to new surroundings. Because of this, people with Alzheimer’s may wander away from home and get lost, leaving them frightened and disoriented. Learning to curb or prevent this wandering is important for keeping a person with dementia safe.

What causes wandering?

Often, someone who is wandering is:

  • Trying to escape from something. Wandering can be triggered by stress and agitation caused by noise or too much activity in the house. Too many voices, too many dishes clattering in the kitchen. This can something they want to get away from.
  • Trying to find something. Sometimes they are looking for someone who isn’t there that day. They may be looking for something to satisfy a basic need. Thirst or hunger, or the toilet. They may have forgotten where to go to or what to do to meet this need.
  • Following a lifelong routine. If someone tries to leave every day at a certain time, they may believe they are going to or from work.

Preventing wandering

Some simple strategies can be followed to try and prevent a person with Alzheimer’s from wandering.

  • Plan activities. If the person with Alzheimer’s tends to wander at certain times of day, plan some activities at those times as a distraction. Even something very simple like folding laundry may shift their focus enough to prevent wandering.
  • Address possible triggers. Offer them a glass of water or a snack. Ask them regularly if they’d like to use the bathroom. Include physical activity as part of their daily routine to prevent restlessness and improve sleep.
  • Offer visual cues. It’s common for people with dementia to forget where they are, even at home. Help out by posting photos or signs on the doors of rooms they’ll use, like the bathroom, kitchen or bedroom.
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