Anyone who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and can walk is at risk for wandering. Indeed, the risk increases as dementia progresses but even at stage 4 on the functional assessment staging scale (FAST), people may still be driving, albeit with questionable skill, and can quickly become confused about directions.
In fact, a wake-up call for many families who have noticed a loved one’s repetitive questions and stories occurs when the loved one “gets lost” attempting to drive home from a familiar location.
In the early stages of dementia, a person can become disoriented or confused for both a short or longer period. It is important to plan ahead for this type of situation.
8 Wandering Warning Signs
Here are 8 are warning signs that the loved one is having difficulty getting around safely*:
1. Returns from a regular walk or drive later than usual
2. Tries to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work
3. Tries or wants to “go home”, even when at home
4. Is restless, paces, or makes repetitive movements
5. Has difficulty locating familiar places like the bedroom, dining room or bathroom
6. Asks the whereabouts of current or past friends and family members
7. Acts as if doing a hobby or chore, but nothing actually gets done. (example: moves dishes around without actually cleaning them)
8. Appears lost in a new or changed environment.
*source Alzheimer’s Association
Suggestions to Prevent Wandering
Wandering can happen even if caregivers are extremely diligent. It is important for the primary caregiver to establish a daily routine of activities to provide structure to the day, decrease agitation and improve the mood of the person with Alzheimer’s disease.
It is important when planning activities for a person with dementia that the caregiver considers the likes and dislikes, the strengths, abilities, and interests of the individual and is willing to continually explore, experiment, and adjust these activities.
How did the person use to structure his or her day? At what time of the day is the person at his or her best? These and allowing unrushed time for performing activities of daily living and for meals are important considerations. Providing structure with flexibility is the best approach.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the abilities of a person with dementia will change. With creativity, flexibility and problem-solving, the caregiver will need to adapt the daily routine to respond to these changes.
The following interventions are focused on the perspective that the person who wants to “get out” might be experiencing unmet physical or emotional needs. It is important for the caregiver to ensure that basic needs, like going to the bathroom. drinking, and eating are met. Those with Alzheimer’s disease will wander in search of getting these needs met.
1. Camouflage doors and doorknobs
2. Place a bell over the door
3. Use black or brown rugs in front of every exit
4. Store car keys in a safe, inaccessible place
5. Use a bed alarm or chair alarm
Wandering is a common a very worrisome behavior that accompanies Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. There is no clear-cut reason behind wandering. One common theme is that the person with dementia is trying to get someplace else and may times that “someplace else” represents a memory from his or her youth.
The sought-out place may no longer exist except in the mind of the wanderer. There are quite a few strategies to minimize the wandering but even when all of these strategies are employed, some individuals with dementia find a way to get outside of their residence, seeking what is only known to that individual, and perhaps putting him or herself in danger.
Free Home Safety and Wandering Evaluation
If you have any questions, or if you would like to schedule a free home safety and wandering evaluation, please call the Alzheimer’s Care Resource Center at 561-588-4545.