How to Manage Wandering with Dementia

Six in 10 dementia sufferers wander. When someone wanders they are put at greater risk. Confusion can worsen and they can become lost. Falls and accidents are more likely. It can cause distress in the individual but also for their loved ones and caregivers.

Furthermore, while wandering tends to become more prevalent as dementia progresses, it isn’t limited to the later stages of the disease. In fact, it is most commonly experienced in the middle stages.

However, sometimes wandering can be prevented, or at least predicted. Knowing what causes someone to wander and what can help is vital.

The Concerns with Wandering

There can be an inclination to think that wandering is often harmless. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case unless supervised and managed.

Memory, cognition and comprehension are all affected by dementia. These difficulties can make regular everyday hazards, such as traffic or crowds, difficult to judge and manage. Furthermore, language and communication difficulties are not uncommon, especially in a heightened sense of confusion, making it difficult for the individual to ask for help.

As a result, someone with dementia can easily run into danger if they are unaccompanied while wandering.

Indeed, research has shown that dementia sufferers who wander are at greater risk of falls and fractures. Worryingly, the research has also shown that wandering can be the catalyst for premature death.

In order to manage the dangers of wandering, you need to first understand the indicators that someone may wander.

Signs That Someone with Dementia May Wander

If your loved one with dementia is mobile, even if their mobility is limited, there is a risk they may wander. Those with marked memory loss are more likely to do so. This combination – of mobility with impaired cognitive function – is the prime time for wandering.

Our dementia care specialists at our North Devon dementia care home know that the signs of someone prone to wandering differ slightly from individual to individual. Getting to know the individual signs of that person is of paramount importance. However, there are some common indicators:

  • Distress: Appearing unsettled or distressed can be a good indicator that confusion is rising and with it the likelihood of wandering.
  • Repetitions: Repetitive movements such as rocking or pacing giving off a restless air.
  • Confusion: When confusion and disorientation rise they may feel lost or confused about where they are and attempt to wander to rectify how they feel or find something familiar.
  • Getting lost: If your loved one is increasingly ‘getting lost’, whether in their local area or when out and about with you, it may be an indication that they are more likely to wander.
  • Past reminiscence: There seems to be a correlation between when dementia sufferers talk about finding or visiting someone or somewhere from their past and a wandering event.
  • Sleep difficulties: Difficulties sleeping and restlessness at night can lead to wandering.

How to Prevent Wandering in Someone with Dementia

The short answer is that the best prevention is caring and calm supervision. While this is near impossible for loved ones to do 24/7 in a home environment, it is one of the main benefits of choosing a care home that can care for dementia sufferers.

It is important to strike a balance between allowing individual independence and freedom with safety and security. This is why it really matters where your loved one lives.

Historically, doctors would recommend sedatives and other medications. You should always follow the advice of your loved one’s health care team. However, there is growing evidence that non-medication methods can really make a difference.

Here are some of our top suggestions:

  • Routines: Routines are vital for individuals with dementia. Keep a regular schedule with prompts available where possible. Again, this can be made much easier by using a dementia care home.
  • Identify risks: As time goes by, you may notice particular triggers or times when your loved one wanders. You may discover that wandering tends to happen in the early evening for example. You can then arrange interventions at these times or work to minimise the trigger.
  • Reassure: Wandering is often set in motion from confusion. Try not to contradict the individual but instead offer soothing reassurance until their distress has passed.
  • Listen: Wandering is a type of behaviour, and like all behaviours it can be seen as a form of communication. Try to find out what is really going on for the individual. Perhaps they are hungry, need the toilet, are feeling unwell or are looking for something or someone.
  • Stimulate: Boredom and loneliness are well-known triggers for wandering. Using activities and small amounts of guided exercise can help prevent the urge to wander.
  • Manage night time: It can be very difficult for relatives to care for a dementia sufferer at home with all the other demands they have on their time. This is particularly true because wandering is more prevalent at night. You can try using night lights and encouraging ‘last thing’ toilet trips. However, if you are struggling with night time care we urge you to get support.
  • Safety: There are a number of safety measures you can take to make their living environment safer. Keep keys out of sight. You can also encourage the individual to wear an activity tracker which can show their location via GPS. You can use an alarm on external doors which is triggered when opened.

Wandering Safely

We recommend that you don’t try to prevent wandering altogether. When managed carefully, it can be safe and even a form of exercise. For example, with supervision and in a safe environment like a dementia care home garden, wandering can be a pleasant and reassuring activity.

If your loved one is still at home there are some other measures you can put in place to make the incidence of wandering safer:

  • Let friends, neighbours and local shopkeepers know that your loved one wanders and what they should so if they encounter them.
  • Know the areas that your loved one tends to go to. Often they can be found heading towards a church or somewhere of interest for them.
  • Use ID, for example with a bracelet, with your mobile phone number.

Wandering can be a challenge and it can be very worrying for loved ones. It is often a major indicator that it is time for residential care. To find out more about the difference specialist dementia care can bring to you and your loved one, come and visit us at our dementia care home in North Devon and Somerset.