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Ingleside at Rock Creek Blog

IRC Blog
Posted: Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Why those with dementia may wander and how to keep them home

It’s not uncommon for those living with dementia to wander. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 6 out of 10 people will wander and it can happen at any stage of the illness.

The biggest fear for caregivers is that their loved one may leave unnoticed and not be able to find their way back home. Although this behavior is a challenge, understanding why it may occur might provide clues to prevent it from happening. There are also steps families can take to increase safety.

Why your loved one may wander

Here are a few of the more common reasons for wandering. Try to see if you recognize a pattern with your loved one:

1. Stress or fear

If your loved one finds themselves in an unfamiliar or over-stimulating environment, they may try to leave.

2. Searching

Consider whether they may be looking for something or someone.

3. Boredom or restlessness

They may be looking for something to do or reacting to monotony.

4. Responding to basic needs

Check to see if they need to go to the bathroom, are hungry or if they want to go outdoors.

5. Following a past routine

They may think they still need to get to work or go to the store for groceries.

Can wandering be prevented?

If you can identify the causes of why your loved one wanders, such as those above, prevention may be easier. Consider these suggestions for help:

Is there a time of day when wandering becomes more likely? What is happening then? Try planning meaningful activities or other distractions during that time. Having a daily routine can help.

Include exercise during the day. Physical activities and exercise can reduce restlessness and anxiety that might trigger wandering.

Does the person want to go home or to work? When your loved one feels disoriented, don’t correct them. They believe they need to go. Instead, try letting them know that you’ll both be staying where you are and are safe, but will go home in the morning after a good night’s rest.

Don’t leave someone with dementia unsupervised. Especially if they are in new surroundings. And never leave them locked in at home or alone in a car.

Remove the car keys from sight. Eliminate keys if they might decide they need to drive to work or another place that was once part of their routine.

When prevention isn’t possible

You can still take steps to keep your loved one safe, even if you aren’t able to stop them from wandering. Try these recommendations from the Alzheimer’s Association:

1. Reduce hazzards

Remove any tripping hazards, including rugs and cords. Install night lights for those who wander at night and gates at stairs to prevent accidental falls.

2. Install alarms and locks

Install sliding bolts out of their line of sight on doors. Try childproof covers on doorknobs and install alarms on doors or use pressure-sensitive mats to alert you that someone is leaving.

3. Camouflage doors

Try concealing the visual clue of a door by either painting or wallpapering it to match the walls or hang curtains over it.

4. Use GPS

Having loved ones wear GPS devices can track their location and help them be found quickly if they do wander away from home.

5. Let others know

Inform the police and your neighbors that your loved one may wander. Ask them to call you if they see the person alone.

6. Enroll in the safe-return program

Enroll in the Alzheimer’s Association’s program or one similar that provides an identification bracelet and access to 24-hour support if there’s an emergency.

7. Create a plan ahead of time

Make sure you have a recent photo of the individual and any needed medical information to pass along to the police. It’s also important to know your neighborhood. Be aware of any open water, stairwells, tunnels, bus stops and roads with traffic. Keep a list of where they might wander. This could include past places where they worked, lived, favorite restaurants or churches.

8. Beginning a search

If it’s only been moments since you noticed your loved one has left, begin searching in the direction of their dominant hand as they will usually head that way. But search no more than 15 minutes before calling 911.

9. Consider a Memory Care community

There may come a time when you are no longer able to keep your loved one safe and will need to consider a memory care community. Even after trying all the recommendations, you may still find your days and nights have become a constant struggle to keep them at home. Their response to your efforts may also be increased agitation.

Ingleside at Rock Creek Memory Support Assisted Living

We understand the challenges, fear and panic that can occur when a loved one wanders. Knowing that they will not be able to find their way back is a true cause for alarm. Despite your loving care and extreme efforts, their safety may still be at risk.

At Ingleside, we are able to provide a secure and respectful environment in a compassionate way. Our highly trained team and best practices will not only keep your loved one safe but will give you the peace of mind you deserve. 

Call (202) 905-0018 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personalized tour today.



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