Wandering is a common behavior associated with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia (ADRD). Understandably, many people worry about their family member wandering off to an unknown location where they will be alone. Yet, while wandering can pose safety issues, there are many ways to prevent your loved one from becoming lost or scared.
For those concerned about this behavior, it is important to first understand why people with ADRD wander. Although people with dementia can wander without purpose, it is more typical that they have a reason or goal for wandering. For instance, the person may say that they need to pick up their children from school, or that they have to go to work. They may also be looking for a loved one or a favorite lost item.
In order to prevent and/or redirect wandering behavior, consider these following tips:
- People with dementia usually dislike and avoid dark spaces. By keeping the areas around exit doors darker at night instead of well-lit, you can help minimize wandering. On the other hand, try making spaces you do want your loved one to enter bright and clearly marked. By leaving a light on in the bathroom, living room, or another safe place you would like them to go, it will attract their attention.
- Consider installing knob covers or round door knobs on exit doors. Past research from the National Institute for Dementia Education suggests that people with dementia are less likely use round door knobs than door levers or handles. This is a small step that could be beneficial to your loved one.
- Avoid saying goodbye to your loved one with dementia as you leave. They will likely forget that you said goodbye and thus may be left feeling like something is missing. Instead, try using positive phrases like “see you soon” or “see you later.” These phrases provide a better sense of closure.
- Even if your family member has never wandered off before, it’s wise to prepare for a possible incident in advance. We suggest creating and making multiple copies of a single page “face sheet.” This document, which can be thought of as a flyer, should include basic identifying information and a photo of your loved one. Note their dominant hand, as research shows they are most likely to wonder that direction. In case they ever do wander off, you will have your loved one’s face sheet all ready to hand out.
- Lastly, remember to educate yourself further on programs in your area that respond to cases of wandering. These programs may include first responder teams, hospitals, and/or local Alzheimer’s organizations. By reading and talking to others about this behavior, you’ll feel more prepared and learn even more helpful tips.
Remember, if you find your loved one wandering, reassure them everything is okay. By calming them down and encouraging them to tell you about what they’re searching for, you’ll provide much needed comfort during a confusing time.