How to Handle Someone With Alzheimer's Who Wanders
Wandering Is Common During Mid- and Later-Stage Alzheimer's
If someone with Alzheimer's wanders, first consider the causes
"Wandering," which includes pacing restlessly in a room, meandering aimlessly through the house, or wandering away from home or from companions in a public place, is no small hazard: People with Alzheimer's have been known to wander away from homes or nursing facilities and been found very ill or even dead from stress, lack of proper medication, or exposure to the elements.
The first step to ensuring a patient's safety is to think about what might prompt the wandering.
Look for the trigger
- If the behavior is new, determine if there have been any big changes in her life. A recent move or change of caregiver can be stressful, for example, and frustration and anxiety can cause wandering. Take extra measures to calm her in stressful times, such as going on fewer outings and following a steady routine. A new medication could be causing agitation as a side effect; mention the wandering to the prescribing doctor.
- Look for a pattern in wandering episodes. If it always happens at night, for example, it could indicate fear or loneliness and she may need extra support after dark. If it's at mealtimes, she may be hungry or thirsty and unable to follow through on these desires. Some people wander at specific times linked to activities from their previous work life or other former routines.
- Assess whether your friend or relative is busy enough. Sheer boredom is a common cause of wandering. She should ideally have access to a variety of activities (sorting laundry or blocks, making art or crafts, watching calm nature-type videos, and talking). It's also good to provide some time out of doors with a companion and some interaction with other people.
Reduce temptations and stressors
- Keep keys out of sight. A friend or relative who has Alzheimer's that's severe enough to include wandering shouldn't be driving. But she may still recognize keys left hanging in a familiar place and drive off -- even if you don't think she has memories of driving or still knows how.
- Avoid crowds. Crowded situations can produce stress that leads to wandering once she's back at home. And from a practical standpoint, it's hard to keep track of someone who wanders when you're in a shopping mall, fair, or other large public gathering.