Preventing wandering: Pinpointing the cause

Sixty percent of people with dementia will experience wandering, which can be dangerous for your loved one and quite scary for you as a caregiver. While some people wander for no specific reason, there is often a cause. Once you’re able to pinpoint the cause, wandering can be easier to predict and prevent.

Signs of wandering

Wandering presents itself in several forms and is not always obvious – your loved one may return from a walk or drive later than usual or forget the location of common places such as the kitchen or bathroom. More noticeable signs include trying to visit locations they used to frequent, such as work, church or former homes; they may also exhibit general signs of restlessness, pacing or repeating movements.

Common reasons

for wandering

Oftentimes, these behaviors have common causes. If wandering around the home, your loved one may be searching for a specific object or person, or seeking food, drink or the bathroom. On the other hand, they may be trying to escape overstimulation, including loud noises or conversations. When trying to visit past locations to which they have a connection, your loved one may be trying to relive the past and connect to old memories.

Preventing wandering

There are simple steps you can take on a daily basis to prevent wandering, regardless of its cause. Develop a routine with activities planned during common times of wandering (which can differ, so watch for the signs throughout the day). Since many people with dementia can be prone to wandering in the evening – often as a result of sundowning – monitor your loved one’s caffeine intake and keep them on a sleep schedule. Additionally, ensure that your loved one’s basic needs are always meant – are they hungry or thirsty? Do they need to go to the bathroom? Accompany your loved one when they leave the house and avoid crowded places, such as malls and large stores. Should you have to take your loved one to such a location, dress them in bright clothes, carry a recent picture of them and consider outfitting them with some form of personal identification.

There are more detailed measures you can take around your home as well. Install child-proof locks or door handles, place doorknobs out of sight or reach, or color doorknobs and locks the same color as the door. Place alarms on windows and doors or put visual cues near exits, like signs that read “Stop” or “Do Not Enter.” You can even get creative with how you conceal exits, decorating doors and windows with photos, curtains or fun fabrics. And be sure to keep your loved one’s car keys out of sight so they’re not able to drive should they leave the house without your knowledge.

Creating a plan

Reach out to your community to keep your loved one protected. Ask neighbors to alert you if they see your loved one wandering and create a list of people to call for help should your loved one wander away from home. Brainstorm a list of places they’re likely to visit and share it with others who can help search.

Above all else, remember that if your loved one wanders off, it’s not your fault. Wandering happens even with the best caregivers on hand, so having a plan is the best way to help ensure your loved one’s safe return.

Feel free to reach out to me for more tips on how to prevent wandering or begin creating a plan. I’d be happy to do whatever I can to help keep your loved one safe!

Amanda Jillson, CCM, BSW, MS, CDP, is the Executive Director at Bridges by EPOCH at Nashua, a local memory care assisted living community located at 575 Amherst Street. She can be reached at