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Dementia Wandering: Causes & Prevention

Dementia Wandering: Causes & Prevention

Seniors who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia will sometimes wander, often traveling far from their home and getting lost. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6 out of every 10 people with this disease will wander. It can occur at any time of day or night, and can happen on foot, by public transportation, or in a vehicle. The risk associated with this behavior  should not be minimized: If you have elderly parents or loved ones in Montreal and are concerned about them wandering, follow these steps below.

Identify the underlying cause

Dementia can cause the elderly to become confused with their surroundings, even in familiar settings like their own home. In many cases, there’s an explanation for why a senior may get up and wander from home. Some common reasons include:

  • Waking up in the middle of the night hungry or thirsty;
  • Looking for the bathroom and getting lost;
  • New medications with side-effects causing confusion;
  • Feeling too hot or cold in a room and looking for somewhere more comfortable;
  • Similarly, if there’s too much noise in an area, a senior may wander to a quieter location;
  • If occurring at nighttime, sundown syndrome may be a factor.

Identifying the cause of the behavior makes it easier to find a solution.


Prevention Methods

Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” solution to dementia-related wandering, as every person is different. However, it’s worth trying out some of these tips to keep your elderly loved one safe:


1. Change Their Surroundings

If the cause of wandering is determined to be related to the elderly person’s environment, small preventative measures can be taken. If, for example, you suspect they’re getting up in the middle of the night in search of food or water, try leaving a few glasses of water and/or some crackers on the beside table. If their bedroom is too cold or hot, or if there’s too much noise in the area which disturbs their sleep, this may also cause them to wake up and begin wandering. Adjust accordingly.

2. Secure Your Home

The biggest danger of this behavior occurs when a senior leaves their home and wanders outside, especially at night. Consider locking doors in the home, or installing locks from beyond eye-level, such as slide bolts at the top or base of doors. If you live with the senior or they have a live-in caregiver, hang bells on doorknobs. This will work as an alert system to warn you or the caregiver when the person tries to leave the house alone.

Placing “Stop” signs on doors that lead outside may deter the senior from leaving. Similarly, placing labels on doors (such as “bathroom”, “bedroom”, etc.) can help them navigate the home, and prevent them from accidentally heading outside.

3. ID is Crucial

If a senior ends up wandering outdoors and away from home, they need to have a piece of ID on them with emergency contact information. While wallet identification is good, it can easily be lost. A better option is wearable ID, such as medication bracelets. Etched into this accessory should be the name of the wearer, as well as the phone number of an emergency contact, whether it’s a family member or senior caregiver. 

4. Make Others Aware

It’s important to alert neighbors that your elderly loved one may wander. You should note that if they are spotted walking outside on their own, they are likely lost, and you or a caregiver should be contacted. Similarly, you may also want to inform the local authorities, or public security of the senior’s Montreal borough.

5. Dress Them in Bright Clothing

This is a simple tip, but it can make a big difference: If wandering occurs at night, the risk of injury is exacerbated, especially if the elderly person ends up near a busy street. To increase their visibility, ensure that they’re wearing bright colours. This will also be helpful if they get lost during the day, as more vibrant clothing will make them stand out in a crowd and render them easier to spot.

6. Don’t Leave Them Alone

Wandering can occur at any time, day or night, so it’s important to keep a close eye on those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. However, nobody can watch their loved one 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Therefore, family members should consider hiring a professional caregiver to help with supervising the at-risk individual, whether full-time or part-time.


7. Prevent Sleeplessness

If a person is getting up in the middle of the night and wandering, or if this behavior occurs around sunset, then restlessness is an issue that needs to be addressed. Ensure that your loved one is getting enough physical activity and mental stimulation throughout the day, as this will help them sleep soundly at night. On top of this, it’s a good idea to prevent them from napping during the day, in order to make it easier for them to sleep through the night.


8. Be Prepared

It’s always best to be ready for the worst-case-scenario. If someone you know wanders and ends up lost, you need to have the right information handy for your local authorities. For example, it’s always good to have a recent photo of the senior so they can be easily identified; it’s also useful to prepare a list of places they may wander to, such as commonly used religious buildings, a nearby park, their old workplace or previous home, and so forth.


When a senior with dementia wanders, it can be very dangerous. This can take a serious emotional toll on loved ones, especially family caregivers. Watching over a person every moment of every day is impossible. However, Complete Care Coordination can help: We have professional Montreal caregivers with experience in helping Alzheimer’s patients. A caregiver can watch over your loved one, provide them with a friendly face, and help with household chores and hygiene.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us today for a free consultation with a nurse.

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