by John Trevey
Wandering is a common behavior observed in people with Alzheimer’s disease, and can be a frightening concern for caregivers. Some people with Alzheimer’s have a tendency to wander away from the safety of their homes or other places unbeknown to caregivers, putting them in a precarious situation which they often do not recognize as unsafe or know how to return home.
The seemingly random act of wandering sometimes stems from a need or habit (this isn’t true for everyone), so taking action to prevent wandering is the first line of defense for Alzheimer’s caregivers. If your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease has a tendency to wander, take note of the circumstances each time he or she makes the attempt. Is there excess noise in his or her environment? Is the person lonely? Knowing the situation, if any, which prompts your loved one to wander can provide valuable insight into the reason, and possibly offer clues for prevention. For instance, if your loved one tends to wander at the same time each day, he or she may be trying to follow an old routine or habit, such as going to work. In this case, it may be helpful to engage your loved one in other activities during the time of day the urge to wander typically emerges. Providing something to do may also alleviate wandering if your loved one seems to wander out of boredom or restlessness. Tailor activities to the interests of your loved one. For one person, playing a game may be the ideal outlet, while for another, simply folding laundry makes for a perfectly relaxing and fulfilling activity.
A pattern is not always evident in wandering behavior, making it important to safeguard your loved one’s home against wandering at any time of the day. You may want to utilize an alarm to alert you and others in the home when doors and windows are opened. Also, removing items that signal going outdoors, such as purses, coats and shoes next to exits may serve to reduce your loved one’s impulse to wander. Sometimes, a person with Alzheimer’s will wander when he or she is seeking to satisfy a need such as thirst, hunger, or using the restroom, common predecessors to night wandering.
If your loved one is prone to wandering at night, ensure that he or she has the opportunity to use the restroom before going to bed and reduce evening fluid intake if necessary.
In addition to taking precautions to prevent your loved one from wandering, being prepared is helpful in the event that he or she does leave the home unnoticed. One option is to enroll in the Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program, a nationwide program that helps identify and reunite people with Alzheimer’s with their loved ones. Another precaution that could be helpful is providing a photo of your loved one with your contact information to neighbors in advance, so that they may notify you in the event that they see him or her out alone. Keeping a recent photo of your loved one on hand to share with authorities should your loved one go missing is also essential.
Walking around in a supervised, secure environment, such as inside the locked home or enclosed yard can be a healthy outlet for a person with Alzheimer’s to release anxiousness and get exercise. Providing opportunities for your loved one to take walks, dance, or otherwise participate in engaging activities may fulfill needs that could otherwise lead him or her to explore in situations where it may be unsafe.