Wandering: Addressing a Problem for People With Alzheimer's Disease

Image for elderly GPS article Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating disorder that robs people of their memory and cognitive abilities. As it progresses, Alzheimer's disease may cause people to become increasingly disoriented about time and place. This confusion can lead to a common problem—wandering.

What Are the Risk Factors for Wandering?

If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, that person may be at risk for wandering, even if the condition is in the earlier stages. Be aware of certain behaviors, which could signal an increased chance of wandering, such as:

  • Coming home late from a routine walk around the neighborhood
  • Attempting to do previous routines, like going to work or attempting to go home
  • Moving around a lot, acting restless
  • Having problems finding rooms in the house, like the bathroom
  • Inquiring about old friends and family members—may indicate a desire to visit these people
  • Having difficulty completing chores
  • Getting lost in a new place

If your loved one has wandered before, it is more likely to happen again in the future.

How Can You Prevent Wandering?

While wandering is a common behavior in people with Alzheimer's disease, these steps can help you lower the chance of your loved one from getting lost:

  • Make changes in and around your house, such as:
    • Encourage your loved one to walk in the house more by clearing hallways and rooms of clutter.
    • Install locks, alarm systems, and wandering monitoring devices.
    • Fence in the yard and install a locked gate with an alarm on it.
    • Label doors to explain the purpose of each room (especially the bathroom) and to discourage your loved one from exiting the house.
    • Keep your car keys in a safe place where your loved one does not have access to them.
  • Have a regular daily routine.
  • Be sure that your loved one is always with a caring and patient adult.
  • Try to identify when your loved one may wander. Choose an activity that may help to distract and lower anxiety.
  • Reassure your loved one. Tell your loved one that he or she is in the right place.
  • Make sure that your neighbors are aware that your loved one may attempt to wander.

How Can You Be Prepared for Wandering?

As much as you want to prevent wandering, you also want to be ready in case it does happen:

  • Program important numbers into your phone, such as your neighbors' phone number and the numbers of family members and friends who can help in case of an emergency.
  • Think about the places your loved one might wander. Look in those places first if wandering does happen.
  • Keep recent pictures or videos of your loved one.
  • Learn about your neighborhood, focusing on places that may be harmful to your loved one, like rivers, steep hills, or congested intersections.
  • Register your loved one with MedicAlert + Alzheimer's Association Safe Return program. This program offers benefits like providing an ID bracelet, storing information and photos in a national database, and notifying you if your loved one has been found.
  • Look into GPS devices that your loved one can wear. These devices send wireless signals to a web program, providing you with information about your loved one's location.

If your loved one is lost, call for emergency medical help right away. Be sure to tell the police that your loved one has Alzheimer's disease. If you have registered with Safe Return, also call that company.

  • Alzheimer's Association

    http://www.alz.org

  • National Institute on Aging

    http://www.nia.nih.gov

  • Alzheimer Society Canada

    http://www.alzheimer.ca

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

  • About Comfort Zone. Alzheimer's Association website. Available at: http://www.alz.org/comfortzone/about%5Fcomfort%5Fzone.asp. Accessed March 11, 2014.

  • Home safety for people with Alzheimer's disease. National Institutes on Aging website. Available at: http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/home-safety-people-alzheimers-disease/home-safety-behavior-behavior. Updated September 13, 2013. Accessed March 11, 2014.

  • MedicAlert + Alzheimer's Association Safe Return. MedicAlert Foundation website. Available at: http://www.medicalert.org/join/alzheimers-safe-return.htm?selected=Membership+Services%5FMembership+for+Adults%5FMedicAlert+B+Safe+Return. Accessed March 11, 2014.

  • Wandering and getting lost. Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregiver Center website. Available at: http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-wandering.asp. Accessed March 11, 2014.