Wandering Patients & Caregivers: A Guide to Safety



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Wandering is a common problem for people with dementia, as it can occur at any stage of the disease. Those with dementia may wander away from home, become lost or confused, and put themselves at risk.

As a caregiver, it’s important to know how to prevent wandering and to be aware of the risk of wandering in your loved one.

For example, I have met a few caregivers who are afraid to go to sleep. They are afraid because their loved one wanders at night. They worry about what might happen if no one watches their loved one. 

In one case, the patient awoke at night and left the house, wandering around the backyard and up the driveway to the street in about 15 minutes. 

Fortunately, the caregiver was awakened by the family’s dogs, which began barking and kept barking when the patient left the backyard. The caregiver could locate her mother in the driveway and bring her back into the house before any harm was done.

This is a personal experience that many caregivers might relate to, and it helps to show that wandering is a common problem for dementia patients. However, that incident was just the beginning of her worries.

Now, what could she do to prevent this from happening again?

Caregivers can do a few things to prepare for a wandering incident.

  • First, make a list of people to call on for help, and keep their phone numbers available.
  • Keep a current photo and medical information of the patient easily available to give to the police.
  • keep your loved one in a secure environment.
  • Keep doors locked and remove car keys to prevent elopement. 
  • Ensure the environment is well-lit at night with night lights and an alarm system in place. 
  • You can also use a tracking device or a latch on doors to keep your loved one inside.
  • Another way to prevent wandering is to be aware of the wandering patterns of your loved one. The National Institute on Aging suggests that wandering behavior may occur more often during agitation or disorientation. Knowing how to limit wandering at these times can help prevent wandering.
  • It’s also important to know the places where your loved one is prone to wandering and what dangers might be in your area such as busy streets, bodies of water, train tracks, etc.
  • Make a list of places they may go to and ask neighbors and friends to alert you immediately if they see your loved one wandering. 
  • Ask neighbors and friends to watch for the patient working alone and to notify you immediately if they see the patient wandering.

The Alzheimer’s Association also has a program called MedicAlert with Wandering Support, a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for people with Alzheimer’s or related dementia who wander or have a medical emergency.

If your loved one does wander away, immediately call 911 and give them a current photo and medical information to give to the local police. Generally, the wandering person is found within a mile and a half of the place they left.

In addition to these tips, limiting the amount of time your loved one spends unsupervised, providing a clear line of sight to them, and keeping them active during the day are helpful. 

The goal is to create a safe environment for someone with dementia and to help prevent wandering. It’s also essential to consult with a healthcare provider to understand the disease’s stage and discuss any medication that may cause wandering.

In conclusion

Remember, caregivers, you are not alone. Wandering is a common problem for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and families and caregivers need to be aware of the risks and ways to prevent wandering.

Having a tracking device or identification bracelet, motion detectors, floor mats, and a clear path to the exits is also helpful. Check into such programs and get help safeguarding the wandering patient under your care.