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Avoiding Dementia-Related Wandering

Written By Editor on 1/26/21 | 1/26/21

Persons living with Alzheimer’s and dementia are prone to wandering, which often puts them at risk. As temperatures continue to drop across the Capital Region this winter, those risks increase exponentially. According to an Alzheimer’s Association study, 6 in 10 people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia will wander. It is one of the most unsettling behavioral changes common for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, yet it often surprises family caregivers and can end with tragic results.

Wandering can happen in the early, middle or late stages of the disease as people experience losses in judgement and orientation. It can also happen if they are still driving or have access to car keys. They may drive away and not know how to get back. In order to best serve our constituents, we want to arm you with tips for preventing wandering:

·       Have a routine for daily activities.

·       Identify the most likely times of day that wandering may occur. Plan activities at that time. Activities and exercise can reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness.

·       Reassure the person if he or she feels lost, abandoned or disoriented. If the person with dementia wants to leave to “go home” or “go to work,” use communication focused on exploration and validation. Refrain from correcting the person. For example, “We are staying here tonight. We are safe and I’ll be with you. We can go home in the morning after a good night’s rest.”

·       Ensure all basic needs are met. Has the person gone to the bathroom? Is he or she thirsty or hungry?

·       Avoid busy places that are confusing and can cause disorientation.

·       Place locks out of the line of sight. Install either high or low on exterior doors and consider placing slide bolts at the top or bottom.

·       Use devices that signal when a door or window is opened. This can be as simple as a bell placed above a door or as sophisticated as an electronic home alarm.

·       Provide supervision. Do not leave someone with dementia unsupervised in new or changed surroundings.

·       If the person is no longer driving, remove access to car keys – a person with dementia may not just wander by foot. The person may forget that he or she can no longer drive. If the person is still able to drive, consider using a GPS device to help if they get lost.

Marisa Korytko is the Public Relations Director for the Alzheimer’s Association Northeastern New York chapter. She can be reached at   

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