My Dementia Patient Has Started Wandering Around. Why?

Wandering is a common symptom of dementia patients, often caused by your loved one looking for someone or something they have lost (or think they have lost). It may also be the result of a distressing emotional state, such as agitation or anxiety — which can be caused by external factors or the dementia itself.

While a senior wandering around their own home may not sound particularly troublesome, the danger comes in the potential for them to injure themselves or wander outside of their home or care facility and get lost.

Even disregarding any potential physical danger to your loved one, you want to help alleviate whatever distressed state could be causing them to wander. Here are a few tips to reduce the potential risks to your loved one and ease your mind.

What challenges can wandering create?

  • Many patients with dementia tend to wander without awareness of time or place. They may even tell themselves they’re going home when they are already there!
  • Individuals with dementia may end up hurting themselves while wandering if they are in an angry or agitated frame of mind or come across an obstacle they’re not familiar with.
  • Wandering can become a regular occurrence if the environment is unfamiliar to a dementia patient.
  • Wandering can be an escape from unpleasant or uncomfortable situations. For example, an individual may wander if they feel frustrated, isolated, bored, or lonely.
  • It is much easier for a dementia patient to get lost as they have issues with short-term memory recall. This can especially be a problem in very hot or cold weather, or if it’s unsafe outside (such as the home or care facility being near a major road).
  • Patients may underestimate how far away their intended destination is and begin attempting to wander somewhere that isn’t reasonable for them to go to.

How do I keep my dementia patient from wandering?

Wandering can be challenging to deal with, both for an individual with dementia and their caregivers. The ideas listed below may help reduce the risk of wandering in a person with dementia.

  • Watch over your loved one: as dementia progresses, patients evolve from being able to behave somewhat autonomously to requiring constant supervision. Your patient may not be at a stage that requires constant supervision yet, but keep an eye on them for signs and changes in their behavior. Home monitoring devices such as cameras and pressure sensors can help make this job easier.
  • Don’t shut them down: if your loved one wants to go driving or visit an area that’s too far away, don’t just tell them no and leave it at that. Gently suggest an alternate activity, or ask them what they remember about wherever it is they want to visit — whether that’s an old workplace, home, or friend’s house. If your loved one expresses repeat interest in an area and it is safe and accessible to visit, consider taking them sometime.
  • Make it harder for them to accidentally leave home, such as placing car keys in a difficult to reach spot and installing safety locks on doors.
  • Create opportunities for your loved one to participate in meaningful and structured daily activities — patients who feel more fulfilled are less likely to wander.
  • Try identifying when your loved one tends to wander during the day. Once you ascertain the time, plan activities or light physical exercises for them. Exercising is known to reduce restlessness, agitation, and anxiety.
  • Ensure that all of their basic needs are satisfied: patients sometimes wander because they aren’t able to communicate a need. For example, hydration, food, toileting, etc. You could also try reducing liquids two hours before sleep, so they don’t wake up at night to use the bathroom.
  • Reassure your loved one if they feel lost, confused, or disoriented while out and about with you.
  • Situate the patient’s living space with technological aids that can assist in supervision or obfuscate wandering. These can range from relatively simple obstructions in the home to prevent wandering to advanced monitoring systems with GPS capabilities.

Tools And Technology That Can Help Prevent Wandering

Communication Aids

If you’re caring for someone with dementia, you probably know the importance of maintaining a frequent channel of connection with them. Studies suggest that dementia patients can remember events and how they made them feel, even if they can’t recall their names or faces.

Adapted telephones are an example of a communication aid. These phones can be programmed to display frequently dialed and emergency contacts. They often come with larger buttons, making them easier for people with dementia to navigate.

These devices may even include video calling, which is an efficient method of staying connected with your loved ones.

Alarms and Smart Clocks

As dementia worsens, patients may sometimes lose track of time and confuse night and day. Nowadays there are clocks and alarms custom-made for dementia patients to help reduce their anxiety. They often have large font faces which makes them easier to read, or may indicate the time of day on them in text and picture format so the patient is better able to understand when in the day it is.

Electronic Monitoring Devices

These devices have specifically been made for caregivers living away from their loved ones with dementia. This device keeps a check on their use of electrical appliances. This is done by plugging the monitoring device into a wall outlet or power strip, which alerts the caregiver if their loved ones have forgotten to switch on or off a commonly used home device.

Tracking Devices And GPS

GPS or tracking devices are a great way to monitor dementia patients who tend to wander. There are a variety of tracking devices and GPS systems that can either be worn (such as GPS-enabled watches) or placed inside your home (such as door alarms).

Most of these devices have alert systems that let you know if your loved one with dementia has left a particular area in the house or vicinity. These devices also alert emergency contacts to ensure a safe recovery.


Cameras are another efficient method of keeping track of your loved ones within the vicinity of their home. You can check on them from a distance. Placing cameras in frequented rooms can ease your mind as you are able to periodically check on your loved one when you are not around.

Some cameras have in-built microphones that allow you to talk to your loved ones when you aren’t at home. Other cameras can monitor movement and alert you if they have detected no movements for a prolonged period.

Wander-Proof Home Alterations

Peel & stick murals that disguise a door as a bookcase. Child safety locks on doors. STOP or “Do Not Enter!” signs with light motion impediments (such as tape spanning across the doorway). Removable curtains. Memory cue boxes. These items placed around the home can help reduce or discourage wandering into unsafe areas (such as outside, or in a room with fragile objects and furniture).

Home Monitoring Devices

These devices are a great help if you want to ensure the health and safety of a person with dementia. These devices can be programmed to change the settings on a thermostat, switch on or off lights in the house, alert you if your dementia patient has passed through them, and other such things. Moreover, these devices have a set of safety measures that can send alerts to your smartphone if connected.

If your patient does wander…

In the case that they do wander outside the home, prepare for the possibility ahead of time by having:

  • Clear, up-to-date photos to identify them
  • Important medical and identifiable information
  • A list of emergency contacts
  • While there is no guarantee they will keep it on their person, have an identification card for them to carry around.
  • A tracking device on their person, such as a GPS-enabled watch, adds an extra layer of security and makes it easier to find your loved one.
  • A list of places your loved one is most likely to have wandered to — try to make note of places they mention often, or areas of high sentimental value such as old homes, favorite establishments, or places of worship.

Reach out to the police immediately with this information if your loved one has gone missing. Provide them and anyone else searching for your loved one with information on their current condition and any identifying information (such as the color of the shirt they are wearing).

Wandering can be pretty challenging for both you and your loved one to deal with — but with some simple preventative steps, you can ensure your loved one’s safety and give your future self a lot more peace of mind.

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