According to the Alzheimer's Association, six in 10 people with dementia will wander. Wandering can occur at any stage of the disease, making it necessary for caregivers to take precautions to both reduce the likelihood of wandering behaviors and handle wandering incidents correctly if they should occur.
Why Dementia Patients Wander
Dementia patients can wander for a variety of reasons. The Mayo Clinic lists several common triggers for wandering. They include:
- Stress or fear: Some dementia patients experience stress or fear in unfamiliar surroundings, or in places where overstimulation of their senses occur (ie. loud noises or overly bright lighting).
- Searching: In many cases, dementia patients may be searching for an item they have lost, and wander away from a safe environment before they are aware of doing so.
- Boredom: Occasionally, a dementia patient may wander in search of something new to do or see.
- Attempting to care for a basic need: A dementia patient may be trying to care for a basic need like finding a bathroom or finding something to eat when he or she becomes confused and begins to wander.
- Following a past routine: In some instances, a dementia patient may be trying to go to a place or activity with which he or she is familiar (ie. going to a previous job or favorite store).
Signs that Indicate Potential Wandering Behaviors
In the article "Caring for Adults with Cognitive and Memory Impairment", the Family Caregiver Alliance states: "Wandering and poor judgment may signal the need for 24-hour supervision."
However, for many caregivers, it is difficult to decide at what point such supervision is really necessary, as dementia patients can sometimes have periods of lucidity. The Alzheimer's Association gives some helpful pointers about behaviors that typically precede wandering and may signal a need for additional supervision. Here are a few early warning signs:
- Patient returns from a regular walk or drive significantly later than usual.
- Patient tries to perform former obligations, like going to work.
- Patient tries or wants to "go home" even when at home.
- Patient is restless, paces the floor, or makes repetitive movements.
- Patient has difficulty finding familiar rooms in the house.
- Patient asks the whereabouts of current or past friends and family members.
- Patient pantomimes working or completing a chore, even though no chore is actually being done.
- Patient appears lost or confused by his or her environment.
If these behaviors sound familiar, it may be time to consider 24-hour supervision of your loved one.
Minimizing Wandering Behaviors
There are many things a caregiver can do to minimize wandering behaviors in a dementia patient. While nothing has been proven to entirely stop wandering, the following tips from WebMD provide a good place to start:
1) Secure your home.
This may involve more than simply locking a door. Alzheimer's patients are often surprisingly adept at unlocking a standard door. Consider installing locks either high or low on the door, rather than at eye level.
Additional security measures may include installing bars on the windows, installing motion sensors that will alert you if your loved one is on the move, and hanging bells on doorknobs.
2) Consider a GPS tracking device.
While this may not prevent wandering behaviors, it can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to locate a wandering dementia patient. GPS devices can be fashioned as bracelets or other pieces of jewelry for your loved one.
3) Increase physical activity.
Since many wandering events occur during the night, getting regular physical activity throughout the day may make it less likely that your loved one will wander at night.
4) Encourage good sleep patterns.
As much as you are able, help your senior to have good sleep patterns. A regular, soothing night time routine can trigger better sleep and reduce the likelihood of wandering.
Encourage a regular sleep routine to help curb the tendency to wander.
5) Work with a home care agency.
The most effective way to protect your loved one who wanders is to keep a constant vigil to ensure that wandering does not occur. Home care agencies can provide 24-hour assistance to care for your loved one. While you get some much needed sleep, a professional home care worker can watch over your senior, ensuring his or her safety at all times and offering you the gift of peace of mind.
Home care workers provide interaction and positive stimulation to dementia patients in their care. Additionally, having a professional care worker in the home means that your loved one can stay in a familiar environment and avoid the disorientation issues that can arise with a move to a facility.
If you are concerned about wandering behaviors in your loved one, please contact us today. Our staff of professional, friendly care workers will work with you to provide the best possible care to your senior with dementia.