Preventing Wandering: Management Techniques for Caregivers


For many family caregivers of a loved one with memory loss, keeping their loved one from wandering off by themselves is part of their reality. According to the Alzheimer’s Association®, approximately 60 percent of those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia will wander. Confusion or disorientation, mood swings and other symptoms of the disease can convince an individual that they need to go somewhere, and this could put them at serious risk of harm. Managing the risks of wandering requires careful observation and creative safety measures, as well as having a good emergency plan.

If you’re concerned about your loved one’s inclination to wander, it’s important to be aware of the warning signs. If your loved one often has trouble locating familiar places, like the bathroom or bedroom, asks where people are or seems restless all the time, they may be likely to wander. Trying to follow past routines, such as getting ready for work even though they’re retired, could be another sign that your loved one might wander out of the house.

Tips for Managing Wandering

Confusion, disorientation, boredom, anxiety or a search for basic needs could lead your loved one to wander off and get lost. You can work to prevent and minimize wandering by doing what you can to eliminate the common causes. The Alzheimer’s Association’s webpage on “Wandering and Getting Lost” explains what caregivers can do to manage these behaviors. Highlights include:

  • Create a routine – Repeating daily activities provides structure for your loved one. When they have something to do next, it’s easier to stay focused in the here and now.
  • Plan activities – Schedule activities during the times your loved one is most likely to wander. Being active mentally and physically can help to reduce anxiety and agitation.
  • Reassure them that they’re safe – If your loved one feels lost, disoriented or abandoned, reassure them that they will be okay and that you won’t leave them.
  • Meet their basic needs – Needing to use the bathroom or being hungry or thirsty might cause your loved one to wander.
  • Avoid busy places – To keep your loved one from becoming confused or disoriented, avoid crowded places such as the supermarket or malls.
  • Keep locks and keys out of sight – Install locks on exterior doors either above or below eye level, and store car keys in a drawer to discourage leaving the house alone.
  • Use signaling devices – Place a bell above the door to alert you if your loved one goes outside, or install an electronic device that signals when doors or windows are opened.
  • Provide supervision – Be with your loved one as often as you can. Never leave them home alone or in the car as you run errands.

In Case of Emergencies: Make a Plan

Even when caregivers take all of these precautions, wandering may still happen. Be prepared for an emergency by making a plan ahead of time. Keep a list of emergency phone numbers and a current photo of your loved one on hand. Write out a list of places in your neighborhood where your loved one might go. Give your loved one medical ID jewelry to wear in case they become lost.

If your loved one does go missing, remember not to search the immediate area for more than fifteen minutes – you don’t want to give them time to travel further away. Ask friends, family and neighbors to call if they ever see your loved one alone, and call 911 to report that your loved one with dementia has gone missing.

Challenging Behaviors Related to Wandering

Symptoms such as forgetfulness and confusion are enough to cause a loved one with dementia to wander, but there are other complex symptoms that could contribute to the problem. People with dementia often exhibit “sundowning,” or an increase of agitated, restless behavior starting late in the day and lasting through the evening. Other challenging symptoms involve suspicion and delusions. If you believe these behaviors may be the cause of your loved one’s wandering, managing these symptoms may be the key to keeping your loved one safe.

Sundowning – Sundowning may contribute to wandering during the night. It is most often caused by end-of-day exhaustion, fear or anxiety from reduced lighting or shadows, an upset in the person’s biological clock or picking up on caregiver stress. You can help reduce sundowning behaviors by filling the day with activities (so your loved one feels tired at night), eliminating stress triggers and creating a calm, safe sleep environment. You can learn more about sundowning from the Alzheimer’s Association.

Suspicion and Delusions – Dementia may cause a person to become delusional (believing in things that are not real) and suspicious of those around them. These thoughts can be extremely confusing and stressful for the person, which could lead them to wander away from their perceived threat. If your loved one expresses delusions or suspicion, don’t try to argue or convince them of the truth. Instead, let them express their thoughts, then offer a simple answer expressing yours. Try to switch their focus to a different activity, and reassure them that they are safe. Learn more about these behaviors here.

Safe, Caring Hands for Memory Care

At Tuscan Gardens, we take a dignified approach to memory care. We understand that the challenging behaviors that can occur in our memory care residents always have a cause and our care team works to find that cause and alleviate it. If a resident always wants to leave to ‘go to work’ in the morning, we enter into his reality, and give him a ‘job’ to do in the community that meets his abilities and interests.

We’re committed to helping family caregivers learn the best ways to keep their loved ones with dementia safe at home. If you could use help preventing wandering with your loved one, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Our care staff is highly trained in dementia care and very experienced with managing the more challenging symptoms of memory loss. We’re here to help!

To learn more about our comfortable, elegant community, contact us today!