Dementia and Wandering: Five Signs Your Loved One May Wander
Wandering: it’s the fear that keeps every caregiver up at night. It’s the worry that their aging loved one could get confused, wander off, and become lost.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Six in ten people with dementia will wander.” With such a high percentage, it’s only natural to worry about the potential of your loved one wandering off.
Luckily, there are a myriad of ways to catch this potential roaming before it occurs. Here are five signs that your loved one with dementia is at risk for wandering.
1. They mention they need to fulfill imaginary obligations.
A major sign of wandering is if your loved one states that they need to do a certain task. This can manifest as needing to work at an old job, or to pick up the kids at school. The obligation tends to be a habit from an earlier instance of their life, one that is fully irrelevant to their current moment.
2. They cannot find familiar living areas.
If your loved one continually becomes lost in their living space, this could be a sign of potential wandering. Your loved one could become disoriented while trying to find the bathroom, or continually lose their way when it’s time to go to bed.
3. They undergo “sundowning.”
Many dementia and Alzheimer’s patients undergo an agitated state during the late afternoon to the early evening. This is called “sundowning,” because the agitation progresses as the sun goes down. The sense of unease can manifest in a sense of restlessness and a desire to act, which, in turn, leads to wandering.
4. They frequently ask about going home when they are already there.
Another signifier of a patient with the potential to wander is if they ask “to go home.” Even if they have been in their current home for decades, they ask to go to a place that they used to call home. This could be a childhood house, or the place that they last felt a sense of safety and security.
5. They become nervous in large, public spaces.
If your loved one continually feels anxious in public, crowded areas, they might be at risk for wandering. Those with dementia can suffer anxiety when in unfamiliar areas or with new people. When in a public space, such as a shopping mall or crowded restaurant, this anxiety is enhanced tenfold. Their sense of unease can become so heightened that they wander away, in search of a calmer place and sense of security.