Tips & How-Tos

How to Prevent Wandering in Alzheimer’s Patients

Wednesday, July 1, 2015
An image of a man in a field.

Wandering is one of the most dangerous behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Learn how to prevent wandering by understanding what causes it.

Wandering is one of the most dangerous behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s disease. An Alzheimer’s patient who wanders outside alone can easily become lost, confused, injured, and even die from exposure to harsh weather or other safety risks.

An estimated 6 in 10 people with Alzheimer’s disease are at risk of wandering when they become confused or disoriented. This can happen at any stage of the disease. It is important to take steps to prevent wandering and know what to do in an emergency.

To prevent wandering, it helps to understand what causes a person with Alzheimer’s to wander.

Some common reasons for wandering are:

  • Confusion: The person with Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t realize that he is at home and sets out to “find” his home.
  • Delusions: He may be reliving an anxiety or responsibility from the long-ago past, such as going to work or caring for a child.
  • Escape from a real or perceived threat: A person with Alzheimer’s disease can be frightened by noise, a stranger who visits, or even the belief that his or her caregiver is trying to hurt him or her.
  • Agitation: This is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease and it can be made worse by some medications. Boredom and restlessness also may be brought on by a lack of exercise and other stimulation, such as searching for a person, a place, or an item that was lost.

How to Prevent Wandering

A person with Alzheimer’s disease who is restless or has a tendency to wander should never be left alone. And even with another adult in the house, the caregiver should take steps to lessen the danger that the person will exit the house or building.

Steps can include:

  • Ensuring all basic needs are met, such as toileting, nutrition, and thirst.
  • Checking with a doctor to determine whether medication may be causing the behavior.
  • Giving the person something repetitive to do, such as rocking in a rocking chair or glider, sweeping the floor, or folding clothes.
  • Providing the person a safe, uncluttered space. Since pacing sometimes happens, provide a clear path for pacing and eliminate rugs and obstacles that could cause trips and falls.
  • Covering doors with “camouflage” posters that make them look like bookshelves or something other than a door. Doors can also be painted the same color as walls to make them “disappear.”
  • Placing red “STOP” signs on a door (this may be effective at stopping someone from going out).
  • Adding deadbolts to all doors leading to the outside, and keep the keys in a safe place where the patient can’t get to them. To reduce frustration, place locks out of the line of sight. Never lock someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia in the home alone.
  • Installing special latches where needed on inside cupboards and doors, and safety devices on all windows to limit how far they can be opened.
  • Looking for assistive safety technologies available from hardware stores or home security vendors. These include motion and bed occupancy sensors; window and door sensors that set off alarms when opened; driveway sensors; and wireless home security systems.
  • Installing a fence around the house with a lockable gate.
  • Obtaining a medical identification bracelet for the person that includes her name, the words “memory loss,” and an emergency phone number. These bracelets are sold in drugstores and online. Make sure it is worn at all times.
  • Investing in a GPS or similar wearable tracking device that makes it possible to monitor a person’s whereabouts and help you locate him quickly. Shoes, watches, necklaces, and ankle bracelets are being manufactured with these devices and can be purchased from vendor websites (see Resources section at the end of this brochure).
  • Notifying your neighbors and community members that the individual has a tendency to wander, and ask them to alert you immediately if they see her out alone.

Although wandering is one of the most dangerous behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s disease, there are some ways to prevent or manage the risk. We want to educate and inform caregivers in order to help you remain confident in the face of this difficult disease. For more information about Alzheimer’s disease, visit www.brightfocus.org/alzheimers.

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