Helping an Elderly Loved One Who Wanders

By: Jane Weyman

Memory loss is the most oft cited symptom of dementia, but did you know that six out of every 10 people with this disease will wander? A person with Alzheimer’s may become disoriented and suddenly leave the home, or take longer than usual to return from a walk. Wandering can be dangerous, because statistics show that when dementia-driven wanderers are found within the first 12 hours, 93% survive. This means that 7% do not make it back home alive. On the upside, many wanderers who ‘go missing’ are found near to their homes. In this post, we discuss the risk factors of wandering and suggest ways families can keep their elderly loved ones safe.

What Are the Biggest Risk Factors for Wandering?

The later the stage of dementia, the more likely a person is to wander. Next to memory loss, wandering is actually the second most common symptom of dementia, so it may also be common in early stage persons.

It is difficult for many to understand why a person might wander. Experts note that often, it stems from a desire to return to a place that was often visited in the past – perhaps one’s old workplace, home, or grocery store. Often, a person may say or feel that they simply want to “go home,” even when they are already physically in their current home. Sometimes, wandering occurs in a cyclical fashion; that is, the person follows the same route, coming back home and heading out again.

Disorientation often peaks when the sun sets, and families can sometimes be unaware that their elderly loved one has left the home, since it is at this time that many families prepare dinner, attend to children, etc.

How Can Families or Caregivers Deal with Wandering?

Because the consequences of wandering can be fatal, it is vital to address a loved one’s dementia using a multifaceted approach. One surefire way to know where a person who wanders is, is GPS SmartSoles®: ergonomic insoles containing GPS technology. With this insole, wearers won’t feel ‘trapped’, as they sometimes feel with a ‘lock on’ bracelet. They won’t be aware that anything is different at all, yet you know they will be wearing it, since they can’t leave home without their shoes.

Additional means of prevention include keeping a diary to track the times a person tends to wonder,  being vigilant at these times.

Neighbours can also be of assistance; you can ask them to call you if they see the person wondering; also let local shopkeepers, dining establishments etc., as well as the local police, know about the issue.

Exercise for seniors with dementia is key, since research has shown that those who enjoy regular physical activity are less likely to wander at night.

Ensure that your loved on or patient has all his needs attended to; often, hunger or the need to go to the bathroom will result in nighttime wandering.

Finally, secure your home as well as possible with locks and alarms, to prevent late night wandering.

Wandering is a common symptom of dementia; one that can cause great stress to carers and family, who worry about the safety risks involved. By ensuring your home is safe, keeping your loved one or patient active, and relying on cutting-edge technology like our GPS elderly trackers, you can significantly lower the risks associated with this habit.



Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash