According to the Alzheimer’s Association, out of ten people with dementia six will wander. Taking off is a risk for anyone with memory problems who is able to walk, and a person can become disoriented or confused even in the early stages of dementia. They might, for example, get lost on familiar streets, or forget their name or address.
Wandering and getting lost is common among people afflicted with dementia, and the world can be a dangerous place. Some even take off in the middle of winter dressed in pajama and slippers.
While it might be tempting to tie a person down so they can’t leave and hurt themselves, that’s not a sustainable plan. Instead, keep an eye out for warning signs such as the person wanting to go home even when they are home, or wanting to go to work even though they don’t work anymore. Other warning signs include pacing, being restless, and making repetitive movements.
Daily routine tips for preventing wandering
To prevent wandering, it’s a good idea to provide structure through daily routines. Try to do things in the same order at the same time each day. Identify the times a day when your loved one is most likely to wander, and plan activities for that time.
Avoid busy places with distractions, and reassure your loved one if they feel lost, abandoned, or disoriented. It might be tempting to argue when a person wants to “go home” when they’re in a place where they’ve lived for twenty years, but arguing leads nowhere. Instead, try an angle of, “We’re going to stay here tonight. We can go home tomorrow.”
Other ideas to prevent wandering include:
- Camouflage doors and handles. This can be done through painting them to resemble the wall, or covering them with curtains.
- Place locks out of sight. Locking people in sounds drastic, but in these cases a sliding bolt at the top or bottom of the front door can prevent dangerous situations.
- Put a bell on doors and windows, so you hear if they open.
- Keep keys out of sight, especially car keys.
Even if you don’t think your loved one will walk off and get into trouble, make an emergency plan. It’s better to have a plan and not need it, than not knowing what to do.
- Make a list of people you can call to get help. Keep the list by the phone or somewhere easy to find.
- Ask people in the neighborhood to call you if they see your loved one out alone.
- Keep a list of places the person is likely to go. For example, somewhere they used to live, or a where they used to work.
- If the person is missing for more than 15 minutes, call the police for help. A person with dementia is a “vulnerable adult” and they will help you search. Make sure you have recent photos to give them, so they know who they’re looking for.