Prevent Wandering in Dementia by Understanding Its Common Causes

Understand and Prevent Wandering in Dementia
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Alzheimer’s disease, in its middle stages, can present some very challenging behaviors for the individual and loved ones. One of those challenging behaviors is wandering. Up to 60 percent of individuals with dementia will wander at some time during their disease.

Is Wandering Preventable?

Some wandering can be proactively prevented, especially if you can determine the motivation for the behavior.

  • Searching for a Bathroom

    If you think your loved one may not be able to find the bathroom, taping a large picture of a toilet on the bathroom door can sometimes assist with this.
  • Hunger

    If hunger could be the cause, try offering small, healthy snacks more frequently to make sure this need is met.
  • Attempting to Go to Work

    For some individuals, the practice of going to work every day is so ingrained in them. After all, they may have done that daily for 45 years. This person may benefit from a more structured day, such as an adult activity program or being given specific tasks to do. For example, you could provide her with a few folders or files with papers in them if she worked with a lot of documents prior to the onset of dementia. You could also offer her a basket of clothes to fold if this task was part of her regular duties. Thinking about what your loved one’s routine consisted of prior to dementia can help you know what types of activities would be meaningful to her.
  • Restlessness

    Give adequate opportunity to exercise. If your loved one already has had a long walk, it’s less likely that she’ll want or need another long walk right away. Your goal is to anticipate her needs.
  • Discomfort or Pain

    Sometimes, people wander because they're experiencing pain or discomfort that is relieved by frequently walking. Assessing pain is crucial to ensure that your loved one is properly treated and as comfortable as possible.
  • Distressing Hallucinations or Paranoia

    If the wandering occurs when the person with Alzheimer’s is upset and seeing or hearing things that are not there, they may be experiencing some psychosis. Psychosis such as hallucinations or paranoia is when an individual is out of touch with reality. The individual’s physician should be notified of these behaviors as this could be a time where antipsychotic medications may be appropriate.

    Other Wandering Prevention Tips

    • Locks on Doors

      Install a deadbolt lock on the exterior door. You may want to install it a higher or lower level than you usually would so that it is not near eyelevel. Do ensure that someone with dementia is not locked in a home alone in case of an emergency.
    • Mirrors on Doors

      Place a full-length mirror on doors you do not want her to go through. The image of another person often stops someone with Alzheimer’s from proceeding through the door.
    • Stop Signs on Doors or Areas

      Place stop signs on doors you don’t want him to go through. The usual response to a stop sign is so ingrained that it often continues to evoke that same response.
    • Alarms / GPS Monitoring Service

      You can also install an alarm on the exterior doors so that if, for example, you’re sleeping at night, it will sound if someone tries to exit the door. You can also consider a Global Positioning System service. These are available through several online companies and offer several different options. They usually have an initial cost and often an ongoing monthly cost as well.
    • Enroll in the Alzheimer’s Association MedicAlert + Safe Return program

      This program provides you with an ID bracelet or pendant with information about your loved one, as well as a 24 hours/day emergency response system including law enforcement notification if your loved one is missing.


    Alzheimer’s Association. Wandering. Accessed November 24, 2011.

    Disability Online. Dementia and Wandering. Accessed September 28, 2015.

    U.S. National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Aging. Home Safety for People with Alzheimer’s Disease. Accessed November 24, 2011.

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