Persons with dementia may lose their ability to recognize familiar places and faces. It is common for the person to wander and become lost; many do repeatedly. Many people cannot even remember their name or address.
Keep persons with dementia safe by knowing the risk factors for wandering. You can't know when wandering will happen, but you'll know what to do when it does.
What is wandering?
Many people with dementia do not fit the textbook definition of wandering, "To move about without a definite destination or purpose."
Persons with dementia who wander often have a purpose or goal in mind. They may be searching for something that is lost or trying to fulfill a former job responsibility.
Who's at risk?
Everyone is at risk for wandering. However, a person may be at risk for wandering if he or she:
Returns from a regular walk or drive later than usual
Tries to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work
Tries or wants to "go home" even when at home
Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements
Has difficulty locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or dining room
Checks the whereabouts of familiar people
Acts as if doing a hobby or chore, but nothing gets done (moves around pots and dirt without actually planting anything)
Appears lost in a new or changed environment
Wandering can be caused by several factors, including:
Medication side effects
Confusion related to time
Inability to recognize familiar people, places and objects
Fear arising from the misinterpretation of sights and sounds
Desire to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work or looking after a child
Tips to reduce wandering
Encourage movement and exercise to reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness
Ensure all basic needs are met (toileting, nutrition, thirst)
Involve the person in daily activities, such as folding laundry or preparing dinner
Place color-matching cloth over doorknobs to camouflage
Redirect pacing or restless behavior
Place a mirror near doorways. The reflection of a person's own face will often stop him or her from exiting the door.
Reassure the person if he or she feels lost, abandoned or disoriented
Tips to protect a person with dementia from wandering and getting lost
Inform your neighbors and local emergency responders of the person's
Condition and keep a list of their names and telephone numbers
Keep your home safe and secure by installing deadbolt or slide-bolt locks on exterior doors and limiting access to potentially dangerous areas. Never lock the person with dementia in a home without supervision
Be aware that the person may not only wander by foot but also by car or by other modes of transportation