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Wandering – A Challenging Aspect of Dementia

Dec 14,2022

“Alzheimer’s disease causes people to lose their ability to recognize familiar places and faces. It’s common for a person living with dementia to wander or become lost or confused about their location, and it can happen at any stage of the disease. Six in 10 people living with dementia will wander at least once; many do so repeatedly. Although common, wandering can be dangerous — even life-threatening — and the stress of this risk weighs heavily on caregivers and family.” (via Wandering – Alzheimer’s Association)

Causes of wandering are not well understood. Some experts believe it is caused by disconnection among brain regions responsible for visual and special awareness, motor, and memory functions. 

Scenarios that have been identified to trigger wandering episodes in an individual with dementia are:

  1. Instinct to leave an unfamiliar-uncomfortable setting.
  2. Their desire for social interaction.
  3. Experiencing feelings of restlessness and boredom.
  4. Belief that they are still employed, or responsible for children’s schedules. 
  5. Search for loved ones or places that are or were important to them in their lives.

The screening questions that are often used to determine an individual’s wandering risk levels.

  • Have they ever wandered away from their home?
  • Have they ever gotten lost while in public?
  • Seem disoriented at home or in familiar places?
  • Ever report a desire to go home even while at home?
  • Become excessively nervous while in public?
  • Talk about needing to fulfill prior work obligations?
  • Ask about the whereabouts of past family or friends?

(via Wandering & Sundowning in Dementia – Practical Neurology)

“If an individual is found to be at risk for wandering, they suggest that hiring a companion caregiver or attending an adult day care program for engagement in enjoyable, (stimulating) activities that incorporate supervised walks or exercise programs during the day, may minimize the wandering risk.  

Recently, the explosion of discrete and affordable wearable devices that have global positioning system (GPS) tracking ability have significantly expanded the number of “high-tech” options available to address elopement. These include GPS tagging, bed and door alarms, and surveillance systems.” (via Wandering & Sundowning in Dementia – Practical Neurology)

Read both the Alzheimer’s Association and Practical Neurology articles through these links:

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