Stuart arose early, ready for a new day and excited about the prospect of going to a job he loved. He put on his favorite tie and headed out the door, briefcase in hand, to go to work as an insurance adjustor.

But in reality, Stuart is 85 years old and has been retired for 20 years. He also has Alzheimer’s disease, a brain disease that may take those diagnosed back to a different time and place.

A confused man behind the wheel of a car.

Wandering is one of the potential symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. According to a leading authority on the issue, those who wander often are trying to get to a familiar destination with a specific purpose in mind – like a former job.

A person may want to go back to a former job he or she had, even though it may no longer exist, noted the Alzheimer’s Association. Someone may have a personal need that must be met. For example, that individual may be looking for the bathroom, but be unable to find it. So he or she goes searching and gets lost. There’s always a purpose and intent. It’s just a matter of identifying the triggers.

Common triggers can run the gamut from tiredness and confusion at the end of the day (commonly referred to as “sundowning”) to a change in routine, such as a move from home to a care community.

The frequency of wandering typically varies according to the stage of the disease. Typically the challenge during this stage of the disease isn’t wandering, it’s getting lost. Perhaps it can be an individual who starts out to an appointment on a familiar route to a see long-time physician, and suddenly cannot remember how to get there. Early-stage Alzheimer’s disease tends to involve more disorientation, while the later stage may involve wandering to find where they want to go.

Regardless of the whys, those who wander often are looking for safety and reassurance because they may be feeling lost, abandoned or disoriented. If the person with dementia wants to leave to “go home” or “go to work,” consider using communication focused on exploration and validation. Try to refrain from correcting the person. For example, “We are staying here tonight. We are safe and I’ll be with you. We can go home in the morning after a good night’s rest.”

Alzheimer’s disease affects everyone differently, which makes wandering unpredictable and complicated. Because of that unpredictability, it’s important for families to get an early diagnosis and put plans in place to help keep individuals safe and independent for as long as possible.

Learn more at “10 Ways to Balance Independence and Safety When Caring for Someone who Might Wander.”

3 thoughts on “The Whys Behind Wandering Behavioral Symptoms

  • Linda B

    My husband always just wanted to be outside – looking back I think he was always looking for me- but he was restless and could escape
    Faster than a 2 year old – he was a challenge-
    I and his caregivers
    Distracted him any way we could— my heart goes out to anyone suffering from this terrible disease and the caregivers who try to care for and keep the patient safe.

  • Michael Davis

    My wife will be 55 in November. We have been in this fight since she was 49 years old. This has to be the worse disease ever.
    I thought my wife would be caring for me now(I’m 70 years old) this illness is devastating. My pain watching her suffer is unbearable. But my love for her is stronger than this disease.

  • Jo Ann

    My hubby will be 80 next month. He has Alzheimer’s for the past 3 years and rapidly going down hill. Yes watching him fade away is terrible but I am his wife for the last 42 years and will do all I can. It’s just a terrible disease that I can’t believe something can’t be done for this. Watching a loved one fade away this way is terrible. I pray every day that there is a cure soon Everyone out there that is a caregiver just try and hold on. There must be a reason WE were given this task. Why we will not know. But hang in there as long as you can

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