What Makes a Person with Dementia Wander?


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by Max Gottlieb of Senior Planning

Understanding the causes that
underlie a person’s desire to wander can hopefully prevent it from happening in
the first place. The three main reasons leading to wandering are confusion,
compulsion, and the sensation of needing to go home.


As we know, those suffering from dementia are prone to
confusion. It can occur anywhere and sometimes causes people to lose track of
where they are, even in once familiar locations. Becoming disoriented can lead
to wandering because in trying to regain their location, they may make matters
worse and go somewhere completely unpredictable. Confusion does not always
equate to wandering or becoming lost, but if you’re in public with a loved one
who has dementia it’s best to keep an eye on them. For example, let’s say
you’re at the mall food court and they need to use the restroom. Don’t wait at
the table for them to return. Walk with them to the restroom and wait outside
the door. The risk of becoming confused somewhere in between going there and
coming back is too great. Simple tasks they once took for granted can become
like a maze to them.

If you’re worried, it’s smart to enroll the senior in a
local Silver Alert program. Once enrolled, your loved one’s information is put
into a database and if they get lost, Silver Alerts operate in much the same
way as the better-known Amber Alert.  


Along with becoming easily confused, dementia causes people
to act on their urges to a much higher degree. The feeling of needing to be somewhere
else is very common. They may think they need to be working, at the
supermarket, or may not even have a destination. The urge to go can be strong
enough that they’ll just leave. When this type of impulse occurs and the person
is expressing a desire to leave, caregivers should try to redirect the person’s
attention so they are no longer in a compulsive mood.

the patient is much more successful than trying to tell the patient they are
retired or do not need groceries. Redirection also works when people forget
their loved ones are no longer alive. A caregiver can say, “we’ll stop by later,”
or “she’ll be visiting with us soon.” Redirection works because it helps the
person with dementia forget they wanted to leave in the first place.

The feeling of not being home:

Maybe the
most common reason people wander is because they have the sensation they are
not home. Although a senior may have lived in the same house for years,
dementia can make them stop feeling like it’s their home. They may feel that a
former house, or perhaps their childhood home, is the place they truly belong. Since
people forget their parents or other close relatives have passed away, they may
feel the need to go to a loved one’s house. This behavior is also a type of
compulsion, so try using the redirection technique mentioned above.

If any of
these behaviors happen frequently and you aren’t able to provide constant
supervision, it could be time to look into professional care. Try by looking up
Memory Care centers near you and ask to take a tour. This type of living
arrangement is specifically designed to treat people with memory disorders. A
senior who is constantly trying to leave cannot safely be left alone. 

Max Gottlieb is the content manager of Senior
and Prime Medical
. Senior Planning is a free service designed to help
seniors make the transition into new living arrangements or find the benefits
they need. Prime Medical Alert aims to help those who choose to live
independently live longer and safer in their own homes.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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