Dementia can cause disorientation. This can lead to wandering. Find out how to curb wandering in people with dementia and, if they become lost, ensure a safe return.
Wandering and becoming lost is common among people with Alzheimer’s disease or other disorders causing dementia. This behavior can happen in the early stages of dementia — even if the person has never wandered in the past.
If a person with dementia is returning from regular walks or drives later than usual or is forgetting how to get to familiar places, he or she may be wandering.
There are many reasons why a person who has dementia might wander, including:
- Stress or fear. The person with dementia might wander as a reaction to feeling nervous in a crowded area, such as a restaurant.
- Searching. He or she might get lost while searching for something or someone, such as past friends.
- Basic needs. He or she might be looking for a bathroom or food or want to go outdoors.
- Following past routines. He or she might try to go to work or buy groceries.
- Visual-spatial problems. He or she can get lost even in familiar places because dementia affects the parts of the brain important for visual guidance and navigation.
Also, the risk of wandering might be higher for men than women.
Wandering isn’t necessarily harmful if it occurs in a safe and controlled environment. However, wandering can pose safety issues — especially in very hot and cold temperatures or if the person with dementia ends up in a secluded area.
To prevent unsafe wandering, identify the times of day that wandering might occur. Plan meaningful activities to keep the person with dementia better engaged. If the person is searching for a spouse or wants to “go home,” avoid correcting him or her. Instead, consider ways to validate and explore the person’s feelings. If the person feels abandoned or disoriented, provide reassurance that he or she is safe.
Also, make sure the person’s basic needs are regularly met and consider avoiding busy or crowded places.
Original document appears on the Mayo Clinic website here.