Over 60% of people with dementia will wander. This can be dangerous for elders who leave their home in the middle of the night without keys, a phone, or a form of identification – it’s why some caregivers have been known to sleep outside their elder’s bedroom.
Fortunately, there are signs that indicate if your senior is at risk and numerous precautions you can take to help.
Signs Your Senior May Wander:
- Repeats the same questions throughout the day
- Gets disoriented even in a familiar settings
- Suffers from a lack of sleep; experiences sundowning
- Has trouble finding belongings: keys, keepsakes, tools, etc.
- Changes mood rapidly
- Finds objects where they shouldn’t be (ex. a trowel in the freezer)
- Confuses a common task (ex. if they start to put dishes in the dishwasher and start putting dishes in the cupboards or sink)
- Performs a task they’ve already done (ex. mows the lawn after breakfast and again after lunch)
- Asks questions out of context about family or past events
In addition to all these, even if your senior doesn’t show any of these symptoms but has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, you should take the necessary precautions.
How to Help Wandering Seniors
There are many things you can do to prevent your senior from wandering out of the house and into dangerous situations. Almost all are practical, free or affordable.
- Install New Locks
One of the main reasons elders end up wandering out of their homes is because their home is familiar – they can navigate in the dark like they’re practically on auto-pilot. If you install new locks and (better yet) high bolt locks, your senior is less likely to leave the home.
- Install Alarm System
Set an alarm and if it goes off in the night, it’s either a wandering senior or a robbery… this is why it’s good to have multiple precautions.
- Hide the Car Keys
This is a great way to ensure that even if your senior wanders out of the house, they won’t get far.
- Avoid Large Crowds and Events
Many families caring for their elders struggle with night wandering, but day wandering is just as common. Remember that big events can trigger the disorienting nature of dementia, and your senior may wander off.
- Moderate Water Intake
One of the reasons elders start to wander in the night is because they need to go to the bathroom, but if you make sure your elder uses the bathroom before bed and doesn’t imbibe any liquids two hours prior, then you reduce the risk.
- Note the Triggers
When you’ve been living with a senior with dementia for a while, you start to recognize the triggers that set them off. Note them so you can prepare (and ideally avoid them altogether).
- Don’t Correct, Reassure
Most of the time, when a senior wanders, it’s because they’re trying to go home (even when they are home). When that happens, don’t correct them, reassure them that they’re safe here for the night and you’ll go home in the morning.
Finally, if your senior does wander, ensure that they’re able to be identified and returned home. Common methods include stitching your elder’s name and address on the inside of their jacket, giving them a bracelet or necklace with their ID, and numerous phone apps have been released specifically for tracking your senior.
Above all, a wandering senior is an emergency. If your senior wanders off, call “911” and alert them that a vulnerable adult is missing. Many people are also successfully using social media to find their elders, so post an image of your elder on Facebook. Many times, city Twitters and Facebook pages pick these up and help spread the word.