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Common Causes of Wandering in Alzheimer's Patients

Wandering Behavior in Dementia: Page 2

By Nikki Jong
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Wandering behavior can be curbed even though total prevention may not be possible. Understanding the causes of wandering can help you minimize the incidences of wandering and the risk to the person with Alzheimer's.

Many factors can contribute to wandering in Alzheimer's patients. Perhaps the most significant is the severity of the patient's dementia. Unfortunately, the more severe the dementia, the more difficult it becomes to identify the causes, since communication continues to decline. Following are some common causes of dementia-related wandering in people with Alzheimer's.

  • Memory loss. Patients who cannot remember their destination may wander as a result. Wandering may also occur when the person attempts to reach a destination that is part of his or her past routine, such as going to work or meeting a friend.

  • Physical needs. Toileting and other basic physical needs may prompt wandering.

  • Social needs. A decline in language skills may prompt wandering in a person who simply needs social interaction.

  • Insomnia. Increased mental fatigue due to lack of sleep can contribute to confusion and disorientation, resulting in wandering.

  • Side effects from medication. Many drugs used to treat common conditions in the elderly may have side effects such as disinhibited behavior and restlessness, which can result in wandering.

  • Disorientation. Confusion regarding time, place and identity is common in Alzheimer's patients. Combined with memory loss and an inability to recognize familiar people and environments, the patient may wander out of fear, in an effort to reach a more familiar, comforting place.

Understanding Wandering Behavior in Alzheimer's Patients

Wandering causes worry and stress for caregivers and loved ones. Not only is there the potential for getting lost, but a person with Alzheimer's is also unable to distinguish safe situations from dangerous ones. Establishing behavior patterns will help you understand what is driving the patient's need to wander. Look for patterns such as:

  • Places the patient wanders to repeatedly
  • Time of day wandering usually occurs
  • Activity patient was engaged in prior to wandering incidents

Studies have shown that men tend to wander more than women, and wandering often increases as Alzheimer's progresses. Delusions, hallucinations and depression all appear more frequently in wanderers with Alzheimer's versus other dementias. Wanderers do not usually respond to rescuers shouting their name and almost never call for help when they are lost. Former homes or favorite places are frequent wandering destinations, so include these in your places to look if the person is missing. The overwhelming majority of wanderers are found within two miles of their place of residence, so be sure to search the building and surrounding area, repeating the search every hour or so.