Wandering Top Tips: What Causes Seniors with Dementia to Wander?

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The AgingCare.com forum is filled with people coming together to share valuable information. We’ve compiled experienced caregivers’ best tips for understanding why dementia patients wander.

What Causes Wandering in Dementia Patients?

“I found a resource called The Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors on the Family Caregiver Alliance website that helped explain why wandering occurs:
‘People with dementia walk, seemingly aimlessly, for a variety of reasons, such as boredom, medication side effects or to look for something or someone. They also may be trying to fulfill a physical need—thirst, hunger, a need to use the toilet or exercise. Discovering the triggers for wandering is not always easy, but they can provide insights to dealing with the behavior.’ ” –MiaMadre

“Wandering is a phase of deterioration. How long it will last varies from person to person, but it will not last forever. My aunt went through it for over a year. What was really exhausting was when she could not sleep and was up all night going through her dresser drawers. Understand that it is a lot like when you had a toddler in your home that got into everything. It’s just that the person is now older, but it’s the same concept—you must ‘baby proof’ your home.” –LyricaLady

“It is disconcerting when a loved one with dementia gets up at night and does things. My mother gets up often at night and has done this for years. Sometimes she gets a snack and turns off the air conditioning, but so far it hasn’t been anything catastrophic. I think, for my mother, it usually begins with her having to go to the bathroom, and then she stays up for a while. I try not to let myself worry about it too much, otherwise I would be a wreck by now. When someone has advanced dementia, it isn’t really freedom that makes them roam. It is disorientation and the loss of things that are familiar. They just can’t recognize clues that help them find their way around places they are familiar with.” –JessieBelle

“My dad had dementia and a fixation with ‘going home.’ I kept telling him, ‘Daddy, we are home,’ which only served to frustrate him. Finally, I thought to ask, ‘What home are you talking about?’ He looked at me as if I were nuts and said, ‘Hollywood, of course.’ He was 79 then and hadn't lived at his parents’ home in Hollywood since he was 28. He eventually had to be put in a locked facility for his safety.” –CarolLynn

“The first time wandering happens, it’s a total shock. Then your loved one seems fine and you think it won’t happen again. In my mom’s case, it has not yet happened again, but people tell me it’s usually just a matter of time until incident #2 occurs. One thing I’ve been told and have read in some books on wandering is that, if the person doesn’t see their caregiver, they might forget what’s going on, focus on the missing caregiver, panic and wander off. Also, dementia patients can go out their front door and forget where they just came from. They can get lost in their own front yard and start wandering aimlessly to find their home, sometimes ending up miles away.” –Abc1234567890

Read: Wandering Top Tips: How to Secure and Dementia-Proof Your Home

Ashley Huntsberry-Lett

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Ashley is responsible for the planning and creation of AgingCare.com’s award-winning content. As a teenager, she assisted in caring for her step-father during his three-year battle with colon cancer. Now, through her work at AgingCare.com, she strives to inform and empower the caregivers who devote so much to helping and healing the ones they love.

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