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People with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can wander at any stage of the disease. Many will wander repeatedly, but 60% of people living with dementia will wander at least once.

Reasons for Wandering

Every person living with dementia may have a unique reason for why they wander. However, some common reasons could include:

  • Being too hot or too cold
  • Being agitated, possibly due to side effects from their medicine, or being surrounded by too much noise and stimulation.
  • Experiencing delusions and hallucinations
  • Being bored and wanting stimulation
  • Thinking they need to leave the house for work or to perform other duties
  • Wanting to “go home” even though they are already at home. The chance of this increases if they recently moved. They may not recognize where they are and want to go somewhere more familiar.
  • Restlessness or altered sleeping pattern
  • Being in pain or in discomfort
  • Following a previous habit (they may have enjoyed long walks in the neighbourhood)
  • Experiencing sundowning (experiencing restlessness, confusion that worsens during late afternoon and in the evenings)

Becoming Prepared

  • Fill out Alzheimer Society Canada’s Wandering and Dementia Guide for Caregivers Identification Kit, in case you need a quick source of information on your loved one.
  • Use night lights throughout the house.
  • Relocate door locks high enough where the person living with dementia is not able to see them.
  • Put a fence around the patio and yard.
  • Disguise doors by covering them with removable curtains/posters, or painting them the same colour as the walls.
  • Install alarms or a monitoring device that signals when a door opens
  • Use safety-gates to block off stairways.
  • Provide visual cues by placing labels on all doors with signs which help explain what each room is.
  • Consider purchasing press-sensitive mats and place them in front of the door or near the person’s bed to alert to any movement.

Reduce the Risk of Wandering

There is no simple solution to prevent a loved one with dementia from wandering. However, there are some strategies that may help reduce the risk of wandering, including the following:

  • Identify and note down the time of day when they most likely wander. Plan an engaging activity during that time that keeps them engaged.
  • Keep a list of places that the person could wander to. For instance, their past place of work, place of worship, favourite restaurant, former house, friend’s home.
  • Keep items such as car keys, jackets, shoes outside of your loved one’s view.
  • Disguise any exits by decorating or covering them with posters or mirrors.
  • Reassure your loved one that everything is fine and they are safe if they feel lost or seem disoriented.
  • Review your loved one’s medications with their doctor/pharmacist to identify any medications that could be heightening confusion or delusions. Speak to your doctor about other alternatives that may exist.
  • Help keep your loved one engaged through structured activities throughout the day such as helping with folding laundry or going on a walk with their caregiver. This can keep them engaged and help reduce agitation.
  • Avoid taking them to crowded places such as malls as they can cause confusion.
  • Assess how they feel around new places. Do not leave them unattended if there is any possibility of them being confused or disoriented.
  • If you feel comfortable, ask your neighbours and nearby businesses to call you if they ever come across your loved one wandering or appearing to be lost. Along with notifying your local police about the situation, as they may be able to recognize your loved one if they do wander. In addition, most police departments allow you to register a loved one (such as York Regional Police’s Project Livesaver).

If a Loved One is Missing

  • Begin searching around nearby surroundings, along with where the person was last seen. Most individuals who wander are found within 2.4 km of where they first disappeared.
  • Contact the police: 9-1-1
  • Notify the police of any possible locations that the person may have wandered to. Consider a location the person may have an emotional connection to, such as a former workplace, previous address, or favourite shop/business.
  • Search areas where they may have been found in the past.
  • Wandering patterns usually follow the direction of the person’s dominant hand. Consider if they were left or right handed.
  • Alert friends, neighbours, and local businesses about the situation.
  • If the person has a vehicle and it’s missing, consider sharing this information with the police.
  • If you believe the person may use public transportation, notify police of any transit routes they previously rode.
  • Have someone you trust to stay at home in case the person returns.

Sources: Alzheimer Society of Canada, Alzheimer’s Association