“I just turned my back for a minute and mom had wandered off. She usually walks so slowly, but when she wanted to get away she became a track star!”

Why do so many people living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias—over 60 percent—wander away from their care settings? The reasons are pretty straightforward, says the Home Instead® network’s dementia consultant David Troxel. “Individuals with dementia get confused about time and place. They may think they are late for work and walk out the door, or get confused trying to find the bathroom and go out the wrong door.”

A senior woman.

Fear can also be a factor. “Their dementia may cause them to become frightened or upset, and walk or run away from a safe setting.”

In most cases, the person is found quickly and safely, but sometimes the results can be tragic. No wonder wandering is such a concern!

“I’ve met families who can no longer get a good night’s sleep out of fear that the person with dementia will go out the front door in the middle of the night,” says Dr. Lakelyn Hogan, gerontologist and caregiver advocate for Home Instead. “It’s exhausting and tough to live in this state of constant worry.”

Home Instead’s Person-Centered Care Training for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias stresses the importance of creating a safe environment. To minimize opportunities to wander, follow these tips from Home Instead:

  • Make your home safe. Put deadbolts high and out of reach. Put a sign on the bathroom door or leave the light on at night if the family member is looking for the bathroom. Alarm doors and windows, or consider investing in an alarmed mat that goes off when someone gets out of bed.
  • Look for patterns and triggers. A person may wander off in the morning thinking it’s time to go to work or school. Over-stimulation or worry about a friend, family member, or a pet may be a cause. Sylvia often worried about feeding her animals. When her daughter Elaine reassured her that they were being taken care of and spent a few minutes reminiscing about her mother’s life, Sylvia calmed down, and seemed to feel less of an urge to wander.
  • Carefully plan outings. If your family member wanders, don’t go to places with large groups. Take an extra helper along if possible. Choose places with family-friendly/uni-sex bathrooms.
  • Plan for the worst. Have extra copies of photographs of your family member to give to first responders. Keep track of the clothes he or she is wearing. Consider registering your loved one with the National Alzheimer’s Association wandering prevention program called Medic Alert/Safe Return.

“I’ve always been active and on the go. If I had Alzheimer’s I’d probably be the first person wanting to take off,” says Hogan. “It’s a basic human desire to seek and explore.”

Troxel agrees. “Ultimately, the best way to prevent wandering is to fight boredom and keep the person living with dementia active and engaged. When you keep him or her busy, home becomes much more inviting!”

Using Redirection to Keep Seniors Safe

In this video, Ann Monday, a Home Instead CAREGiver, discusses how she uses the redirection technique to help keep her clients safe.

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To find a caregiver in your area, contact your local Home Instead office.