Tips for Caregivers: What is Wandering and How to Manage It

Six in 10 people with dementia will wander. Anyone who has problems with their memory and is able to walk is at risk for wandering, even in the early stages of dementia. As such, it’s likely that caregivers of people with dementia will come across this behaviour at some point in time.

Wandering is relatively common in people with dementia, and when this happens, it can cause significant concern for the person’s family and caregivers. It can be particularly difficult for carers as the person with dementia’s failing memory and declining ability to communicate means that they may not remember or be able to explain their reason for wandering.

There are a number of things that can make a person with dementia wander. Some of the most common are as follows:

  • New Environment: If a person with dementia is put in a new environment, such as a new home or care centre, they may feel uncertain and disoriented, which can cause wandering. Once they get used to the new place, wandering may stop.
  • Noise: A person with dementia may wander in an attempt to try to escape from a loud or busy environment.
  • Memory Loss: Wandering can occur as a result of a loss of short-term memory. For example, a person with dementia may leave their home to go to a friend’s house, but on the way, forget where they were going or why. Alternatively, if their partner or child leaves the house for a while and the person forgets where they are, they may go out to search for them.
  • Extra Energy: In some cases, wandering can occur as the person wants to use up excess energy that they have. In this case, wandering may stop if the person gets more regular exercise.
  • Looking for the Past: A person with dementia may become confused and wander in search of a person or a thing in relation to their past, like a friend who they knew when they were young or the home that they grew up in.
  • Boredom: People with dementia, particularly in the later stages, often find it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time. Sometimes they wander to stay occupied.
  • Confusing Night and Day: It is common for people with dementia to experience insomnia, or wake during the night and feel disoriented. Sometimes when this happens, they think it is daytime and decide to go for a walk.
  • Pain or Discomfort: A person with dementia may wander as a result of feeling uncomfortable or being in pain. Tight clothing, excessive heat, or needing to find a toilet can often be the cause of discomfort.

How to Manage Wandering

There are a number of things that caregivers of people with dementia can do to try to manage wandering. The precautions that are most effective will depend on the personality of the person with dementia, their reasons for wandering and the environment that they live in.

  • Physical Check-Up: A physical check-up can help to identify what triggered wandering, if it is from illness, pain or discomfort.
  • Medication Check: Some medications for dementia can cause side effects. It’s important to discuss these side effects with a doctor and try to avoid medication that can increase confusion and cause drowsiness.
  • Understand their Mental State: In some cases, wandering occurs as a result of the mental state of the person with dementia. Try to identify if the person is anxious, depressed or frightened so that you can take steps to reduce these feelings.
  • Identification: Ensure that the person with dementia has a form of identification on them that states their current address. This may not reduce the chance of wandering, but it helps to reduce the risk of them getting lost. DementiaAustralia has Identification Cards available.
  • Keep A Diary: It can be useful to keep a record or diary to identify whether there is a pattern to the wandering, for example, whether it occurs at a certain time of the day or in response to certain situations.
  • Manage the Surroundings: Try to camouflage exits or consider installing alarms that send an alert when external doors are opened. Also, ensure there are clocks and calendars in sight to try to reduce disorientation.
  • Encourage Walking: Provide opportunities for the person with dementia to walk throughout the day. If possible, secure the garden so that it is safe for them to walk.
  • Tell Others: It can be extremely helpful to tell friends, neighbours and local shop workers about the person with dementia wandering so that they can help to keep an eye on them.

Caring for someone with dementia can sometimes be frustrating, overwhelming and even frightening. If you are currently in this position, the Dementia Live® course can give you the “AHA” moment that you need by increasing your awareness of their frame of mind and helping you to understand the reactions of people in your care.

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