Wandering: Addressing a Problem for People With Alzheimer Disease

Image for elderly GPS articleAlzheimer disease is a serious condition. It causes problems with memory and thinking. As it gets worse, Alzheimer disease may cause people to be confused. They may not know where they are or what time it is. Confusion can lead to wandering.

Possible Signs of Wandering

If you have a loved one with Alzheimer, be aware of certain behaviors. These could lead to wandering:

  • Coming home late from a routine walk
  • Attempting to do previous routines—like returning to a former address or job
  • Acting restless
  • Having problems finding rooms in the house—like the bathroom
  • Asking about old friends and family members—perhaps wanting to visit them
  • Having problems completing chores
  • Getting lost in a new place

Be aware if wandering has happened before. It is more likely to happen again.

How Can You Prevent Wandering?

To help prevent wandering:

  • Make changes in and around your house, such as:
    • Encourage walks in the house—clearing hallways and rooms of clutter
    • Install locks, alarm systems, and devices to keep track of the person.
    • Fence in the yard. Install a locked gate with an alarm on it.
    • Label doors. Explain the purpose of each room (especially the bathroom).
    • Keep your car keys in a safe place—away from your loved one.
  • Have a regular daily routine.
  • Be sure that your loved one is always with a caring and patient adult.
  • Think about when your loved one may wander. Choose an activity that may help calm or distract them.
  • Reassure your loved one. Let them know they are in the right place.
  • Let your neighbors know that your loved one may wander.

Be Ready for Wandering

Always be ready for the person to wander:

  • Put important numbers in your phone. Include the phone number of your neighbors, family, and friends. Consider those who can help.
  • 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. Focus on places that may be harmful. Examples are rivers, steep hills, or busy traffic areas.
  • Register your loved one with MedicAlert + Alzheimer's Association Safe Return program. This program offers benefits like:
    • An ID bracelet
    • A national database of information and photos
    • Letting you know if your loved one has been found.
  • Look into wearable GPS devices. They can help track your loved one's location.

If your loved one is lost, call for medical help right away. Tell the police that your loved one has Alzheimers. If you have registered with Safe Return, also call them.

RESOURCES:

Alzheimer's Association
http://www.alz.org

National Institute on Aging
http://www.nia.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Alzheimer Society Canada
http://www.alzheimer.ca

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

REFERENCES:

Alzheimer dementia.EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/alzheimer-dementia. Accessed October 12, 2021.

Home safety for people with Alzheimer's disease. National Institutes on Aging website. Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/home-safety-and-alzheimers-disease. Accessed October 12, 2021.

MedicAlert + Alzheimer's Association Safe Return. MedicAlert Foundation website. Available at: https://www.medicalert.org/. Accessed October 12, 2021.

Wandering. Alzheimer's Association website. Available at: https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/stages-behaviors/wandering. Accessed October 12, 2021.

Wandering and getting lost. Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregiver Center website. Available athttps://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/stages-behaviors/wandering. Accessed October 12, 2021.

Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board   Last Updated: 10/12/2021