Imagine your loved one is missing, even for a short time. That thought can send panic through anyone caring for an adult living Alzheimer’s disease or dementia who gets lost outside their home. They may walk away in the grocery store or leave the car while waiting for you. They may go for a walk to the mailbox but not be able to find their way home. Wandering and getting lost can be dangerous.

Adults with any type of dementia are at increased risk of wandering, getting lost, or feeling confused in familiar settings. According to the National Council on Aging, it’s estimated that more than 30% of people with dementia will wander.

While the “why” of wandering isn’t always clear, being alert to potential triggers can help you guide your loved one and keep them safe. This blog post is intended to help you understand wandering in dementia, its dangers, and what you can do to create a safe haven for your loved one.

Potential triggers of wandering

A wide range of triggers can spur a person with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other types of short-term memory loss to wander. One trigger could be the need to seek familiarity. The disorientation that comes with dementia can make a person feel as if they’re in an unfamiliar place. Wandering may be an attempt to find a recognizable space, a person they miss, or even their past home. Confusion about the time, where they are, or their identity can also lead them astray.

“An unmet need can also cause a person with dementia to wander. Perhaps he or she is feeling restless or bored. The desire to be active could make the person walk away,” said Cheryl Conley, MA, LSW, director of social services at MemoryLane Care Services.

Another trigger could be environmental factors. Bright lights and loud noises could cause the person to seek out a more soothing environment.

The dangers of wandering

Wandering, especially in cold weather, can have serious consequences. First, exposure to the elements, even for a short amount of time, can be dangerous. Being outside without the proper outerwear, including a coat, boots, hat, gloves, and scarf, can make someone vulnerable to frostbite and hypothermia.

Being in an unfamiliar area because of wandering can lead to a number of negative outcomes, including injuries from a fall, drowning, or being hit by a car.

Keeping your loved one safe

Fortunately, you can minimize the risk of wandering and keep your loved one safe. Download our Caregiver Tip Sheet on Getting Lost to learn how you can be prepared, provide comfort, and make home a safe place.

  • Secure the environment: Lock doors and windows, secure car keys, utilize alarms, and put away items such as coats, purses, and sunglasses.
  • Maintain a routine: Consistent schedules and activities can provide stability and reduce confusion.
  • Address triggers: Identify and eliminate factors that may cause anxiety or disorientation.
  • Engage in meaningful activities: Stimulate their mind and body with regular walks, music, or crafts.
  • Seek support: Connect with us for caregiver coaching, resources, and guidance.

Remember, you are not alone. By understanding the reasons behind wandering and taking proactive measures, you can create a safe environment for your family member or friend with dementia.

For more information about our Caregiver Coaching program, contact Lyndi Wyrostek at 419-720-4940.