How to Help Avoid Dementia-Related Wandering - NYCM Insurance Blog

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Sep 27, 2021

How to Help Avoid Dementia-Related Wandering


Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease comes with many important things to consider for their health and safety, including the security of their home. Alzheimer's disease and other dementia causing conditions can affect the part of the brain that controls memory, causing those suffering with the disease to be prone to wandering. The challenges they face can make it extremely difficult to remember a destination, directions, and even the reason behind wanting to leave in the first place. As cooler months approach in New York State, the risks associated with dementia-related wandering increase exponentially. Continue reading to learn more about what you can do to help your loved ones stay safe this winter.


Creating Structure In Their Lives

According to a recent Alzheimer’s Association study, six in ten people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia will wander. However, wandering often comes as a surprise to family and caregivers. Creating structure in your loved ones’ lives can help cut down on wandering. To create this structure, you can set routines for daily activities. You’ll want to identify the most likely times of day that wandering may occur and plan activities at that time. Scheduled activities and exercise can reduce anxiety, agitation, and restlessness. It’s also important to be mindful of avoiding busy places as they can be confusing and can also cause disorientation which may throw them off their routine.


Use Clear Communication

Clear communication can go a long way when it comes to helping those with Alzheimer's feel secure. That feeling of security can make the desire to leave or become agitated less likely. If your loved one is feeling lost, abandoned, or disoriented, you’ll want to reassure them that everything is alright. If this person wants to leave to “go home” or “go to work,” use communication focused on exploration and validation. You’ll want to refrain from correcting them. For example, you might consider saying something like, “We are staying here tonight. We are safe, and I’ll be with you. We can go home in the morning after a good night’s rest.”


Another reason someone with dementia may wander may be out of an attempt to take care of the things they feel they need to. They may go out looking for a pharmacy or grocery store. You’ll want to use validation-based language to help them feel secure. You might say something along the lines of, “Everything we need is already here, so there is no need to run errands today,” or “We’re safe and have plenty of groceries here.” You’ll want to check in often and make sure that all their basic needs have been met. Has this person gone to the bathroom? Are they thirsty or hungry? Having their basic needs already met can also decrease the likelihood that they will wander.


Secure the Area and Supervise

Dementia-related wandering can happen during any stage of the disease as people experience losses in judgement and orientation. In order to help limit triggers that may entice them to wander, consider the following:

  • Be sure to install locks out of the line of sight; either high or low on exterior doors, and consider placing slide bolts at the top or bottom.
  • Use devices that signal when a door or window is opened. This can be as simple as a bell placed above a door or as sophisticated as an electronic home alarm system.
  • Provide constant supervision. It’s important that you do not leave someone with dementia unsupervised in new or changed surroundings.
  • If the person is no longer driving, you’ll want to remove access to car keys. The person may forget, or even just disagree that they can no longer drive.
  • If the person is still able to drive, you may consider installing a GPS device to help them if they get lost.


What To Do If Your Loved One Has Wandered

If your loved one has wandered, search the immediate area for no more than 15 minutes. Call emergency services and report that a person with Alzheimer’s disease — a “vulnerable adult” — is missing.  Additional tips and resources are available any time – day or night – at or through the Alzheimer’s Association’s free, 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.


Living with or caring for someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s is challenging, but there are ways to help both you and your loved one cope. It’s also important to discuss different home coverages you have on your insurance policy should someone fall or injure themselves in the home. Ask your local agent for the specifics of your insurance policy to make sure you have proper coverage.