Dementia related wandering is a common side-effect of this disease. Not all dementia patients are likely to end up as wanderers, but there may be an instance or few where wandering behaviour presents itself during your caregiving tenure.
What is dementia related wandering?
This is a very different form of wandering from merely exploring the neighbourhood or meandering about the city. Dementia patients with wandering habits are purpose driven, with wandering patterns often triggered by memories or changes in routine, lifestyle or life events.
It’s important to fully understand the driving force behind their wandering in order to a get a hold on their wandering habits. In this way you can take necessary measures to prevent wandering and decrease incidents of injury or getting lost.
Understanding wandering behaviour
In order to understand why a loved one with dementia has taken to wandering, you will need to understand what they’re trying to achieve or where they want to go. Sometimes, it’s as simple as asking the question. But more often than not, it’s not that easy and you’ll need to observe their behaviour closely.
Step 1: Analyse what you are seeing
Some of these questions and scenarios may be common in relation to wandering behaviour:
- Are they trying to ‘escape’ from somewhere?
- Are they moving from one place to another with seemingly no direction or final destination in mind?
- Are they actively searching something or someone i.e. walking with purpose?
- Are they waking and wandering in the middle of the night feeling disoriented?
- Are they anxiously pacing up and down in a certain area?
- Are they following or shadowing another person and their movements?
- Are they feeling paranoid and trying to escape ‘danger’?
Step 2: Take note of the time of day and frequency of wandering
Make a note of the time of day the wandering instances tend to occur as well as their frequency throughout the week. This way you can begin to decipher a pattern and a possible meaning behind their behaviour. You can also keep track of wandering patterns and learn to prepare yourself and prevent a wandering episode.
Step 3: Envision the underlying cause of wandering
Take all your observations and compile a rough understanding of why your loved one could be wandering. During this step, consider your loved one’s lifelong routines, how active they used to be, the onset of new dementia symptoms, changes in routine and lifestyle which could be triggering such behaviour. From your basic understanding you can work to try and reduce wandering episodes.
Management of wandering behaviour
If instances of wandering are becoming difficult to manage, it may be worth undergoing a thorough analysis from a dementia expert. There are some medications which can be prescribed to assist with sleep/wake cycles and reduce instances of wandering.
However, if medication is not an option, there are certain interventions you can employ to help reduce wandering episodes, such as:
- Keeping your loved one engaged around the general time of day they tend to wander. Include them in chores, make them a snack, watch a TV show together etc.
- Move locks and latches on doors to be out-of-reach of loved ones.
- Place bells on all exit doors as an extra alert system if they leave the house.
- Use wearable medical alert devices which signal when a loved one has left the vicinity of your / their home.
In instances where wandering is more of a regular rather than occasional occurrence, make sure to sew a name and phone number into coats or items of clothing. Place contact information in their pockets, a purse or wallet for simple identification. Lastly, notify neighbours and local authorities of their habits and where they should be returned to if found.
It’s important to note that dementia related wandering is not always a permanent habit and eventually the cycle of wandering can be broken. Dementia related behaviours evolve with the illness, so if your loved one has a habit of wandering, just keep in mind that it won’t last forever!