Reacting to stress, searching for someone in their past, worried they’ll be late to work or simply wanting to go outside can all be reasons for someone living with dementia to wander.

While wandering itself isn’t inherently dangerous, if they become lost, are out in the elements or are unable to be found or return home safely, the danger can be increasingly high.

Wandering and dementia

It’s not uncommon for those living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia to lose their ability to recognize familiar places and begin wandering. In fact, it’s estimated that six in ten people with dementia wander, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Everyone is at risk and it can happen at any stage of the disease.

In the beginning, family members may notice signs that their loved one might be at risk of wandering, including:

  • Returning from a regular walk or drive later than usual
  • Forgetting how to get to familiar places
  • Talking about needing to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work
  • Trying or wanting to go home, even when they are at home
  • Becoming restless, pacing or making repetitive movements
  • Having difficulty locating familiar places, such as the bathroom, bedroom or dining room
  • Asking where friends or family members are from the past
  • Acting as if they are doing a hobby or chore but nothing gets done
  • Appearing lost in a new or different environment
  • Becoming nervous or anxious in crowded areas such as markets or restaurants

Source: Alzheimer’s Association

Reducing the risk of wandering

There are steps the caregiver can take to help reduce the risk of wandering but it’s unlikely the risk can be eliminated altogether.

Consider these suggestions to help keep your loved one safe:

  1. Identify times of day when wandering behavior seems more likely to occur and plan activities to help the person better engage.
  2. Explore the feelings behind the behavior. When loved ones want to go home, are they feeling lonely or afraid? Reassure them that they’re safe.
  3. Make sure their other needs are met, such as having to go to the bathroom or feeling hungry or thirsty.
  4. Install alarms and locks or other devices that can alert you that your loved one is trying to leave the home.
  5. If your family member is still able to safely drive, consider a GPS device to help if they get lost.
  6. If your loved one is no longer able to drive, remove access to keys as he or she may forget. Wandering isn’t limited to walking.
  7. Don’t leave someone with dementia unsupervised if they are or may become confused or disoriented.
  8. Consider a memory care community if your loved one is no longer safe living at home.

Keeping wanderers safe: home vs. memory care

Families often seek out memory care when they are no longer able to provide the higher level of care needed as the disease progresses, including keeping their loved ones secure. Wandering behavior is one that can pose a higher risk to the individual’s overall safety.

It can become increasingly difficult to stop this behavior at home. While you can implement many of the steps above, it is not possible to eliminate all risk or opportunity for your loved one to slip out of the home unnoticed. Caregivers, already under stress and anxiety, may not be able to realistically provide around-the-clock supervision.

Memory care communities and safety

Memory care communities are designed to keep their residents safe, while also experiencing as high a quality of life as possible. Here are a few ways your loved one will be allowed freedom of movement but in a secure environment:

  1. Entry and exit doors are monitored, alarmed or keypad restricted to stop anyone from leaving the area unnoticed.
  2. The community provides 24-hour staffing and security personnel.
  3. Alternative activities are provided that may relieve the need to wander, such as exercises, stationary bikes, yoga or meditation classes. Staff may also accompany residents on walks.
  4. Technology systems may be used to allow residents to wander without them entering other less-secured areas.
  5. Providing a safe space to wander and walk, communities often include an enclosed courtyard so the resident is free to walk outside and return without feeling their movements are restricted.
  6. Use of color-coded doorways or hallways or other visual reminders that provide clues to where the person is may relieve stress from disorientation.

Life at Tapestry Memory Care communities

We understand the increased risks that wandering behavior can cause and take all necessary precautions to keep our residents safe while enjoying the highest quality of life possible.

If you’re caring for a loved one living with a cognitive illness and finding it more difficult to meet the increasing needs and supervise their safety, we hope you will consider memory care at one of our communities. We know this isn’t always an easy decision to make and we are here to answer any questions that you may have.

Our staff is specially trained in the best practices to connect with our residents. Our person-centered approach, services, amenities and activities all play an important role in helping both your loved one and your family live a meaningful and connected life. 

We understand that choosing the right community is an important decision and are here to answer any questions that you may have. We also invite you to download our complimentary guide, Just the Facts: Your Guide to Assisted Living.

If you have any questions or would like to schedule a personal tour, please contact one of our advisors at a community near you.

Download our Family Decision Toolkit