The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 6 in 10 people with dementia will wander away from a safe location. This is largely due to the fact that confusion with time and place is one of the most common dementia symptoms, and familiar surroundings can often seem strange to those with dementia. This can lead to disorientation, with individuals forgetting where they are or how they got there.
Wandering and getting lost can occur throughout any of the stages of dementia, even in the earliest stages. It’s for this reason that many memory care communities feature secure environments to keep residents from leaving the premises. But, there are also strategies family caregivers can put in place to ensure their loved one with dementia is as safe as possible.
How to Prevent Wandering in Individuals with Dementia
Loved ones with dementia may be at risk for wandering if you start to notice certain warning signs. Perhaps they are taking longer walks than normal, or not arriving home when they said they would. They could also appear restless and constantly feel the need to move about the room in a repetitive manner. They may say they want to go home when they’re already home, or get nervous in crowded, public areas.
It’s not possible to watch your loved one 24-hours a day, seven days a week, all by yourself. It’s important to remember your loved one should be allowed to remain as independent as possible, for as long as possible. However, if or when wandering has become an issue and your loved one’s safety is at risk, here are a few things you can do to manage the situation:
Find out if there’s an underlying cause. It’s possible there’s a motive behind the wandering. Make sure basic needs have been met, that your loved one doesn’t need to use the restroom before bedtime or that it’s not hunger or thirst driving the need to move around.
Keep them active. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple distraction to keep loved ones with dementia from wandering. Take supervised walks around the neighborhood or engage in regular activities to reduce some of the restlessness and agitation your loved one may be experiencing that could lead to wandering.
Secure the environment. Do what you can to ensure the safest home possible. This may involve installing new, discreet locks along the top or bottom of doors and windows. Or, using motion detectors or door alarms to alert you when your loved one may be moving about. Always make sure car keys are put away and out of sight.
Utilize signs. Simply hanging up signs that say “do not enter” can deter a loved one with dementia from wandering out of a room. You can also use signs to display the names of the rooms, so loved ones know exactly where they are in the home.
Avoid crowded, busy places. If possible, don’t bring loved ones out shopping with you to the mall or grocery store. These public places can be noisy and easily cause further disorientation and confusion in your loved one.
Promote good sleeping habits. Dementia wandering is sometimes caused by sleeplessness, as sundowner’s syndrome and wandering tend to go hand in hand. Reduce daytime napping and create a restful bedtime routine to ensure loved ones are getting a good night’s sleep.
Create a plan. Avoid stress by having a plan set in case wandering does occur. Identify the common places a loved one may wander to, alert neighbors about your loved one’s condition, and keep a recent photo and updated medical information on hand. There are even GPS tracking devices designed specifically for this common dementia behavior you can consider using to reduce wandering.
American Senior Communities offers a person-centered, wellness-based model of dementia care at our Auguste’s Cottage and a variety of assisted living memory care apartments throughout our locations. Contact us today to request more information.