By Patty Aiken, Owner, Home Instead Senior Care 

Have you heard these types of conversations before?

 “My fear is that Mom will get out of her room and wander into the kitchen while I’m sleeping. I stay up most of the night, and go to bed around dawn.” 

“The coldest night of the year, my loved one went outside. If he had left the yard, he may have died from the cold.” 

“When my uncle wandered off, we found him in a ditch after a long search. He was OK...However, he did it again and again.” 

Below are some facts that we need to know as we learn to manage this issue with our loved ones. Wandering is not uncommon among those with dementia related illnesses. 

 * Six out of 10 living with Alzheimer’s or dementia illnesses will wander, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

 • Any senior living with Alzheimer’s and dementia is at risk for wandering. This behavior can affect individuals in all stages of the disease for as long as that person is mobile.

 • Wandering can happen at any time – and is not just limited to seniors on foot. Wandering can occur by anyone – even in a car or wheelchair. • Wandering often leads many to think a person is going somewhere aimlessly, but, in fact, many seniors who “wander” are going somewhere with intent – “to work,” “home,” “to the store,” etc.

 • A senior loved one wandering or getting lost can be one of worst scenarios for families caring with loved ones living with Alzheimer’s or dementia illnesses. A wandering event causes immediate panic and unfortunately happens all too often.

 • Nearly 50 percent of families have experienced a loved one with Alzheimer’s wandering or getting lost. • Of those, nearly one in five called the police for assistance. 

* In addition, over half of family caregivers reported a “near-miss” situation where they feared the worse, but were fortunately able to get their loved one back to safety unharmed. 

• If a missing senior is not found within 24 hours, up to half of individuals who wander are at risk for injury or even death. • More than 70 percent of families who reported an incident are taking precautions to prevent wandering. 

It is also important for families to understand what triggers these events. Common triggers for wandering include: 

Delusions or hallucinations. Those living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias may misinterpret sights or sounds, causing them to feel fearful and wander to escape their environment. 

• Over-stimulation. Individuals with dementia can be easily upset in noisy or crowded environments, triggering them to look for an escape from the chaos. 

Fatigue, especially during late afternoons and evenings. Individuals with dementia may become tired, causing restless pacing, and eventually, wandering.

 • Disorientation to place and time. Individuals may not recognize they are already home and seek to return to a familiar place, such as a former workplace.

 • Change in routine. Individuals with dementia may become confused following a change of routine, wandering in an effort to return to a familiar place.

What Can We Do? 

 • Ensure that an individual who may be at risk is always wearing a form of identification, such as an ID bracelet.

 • There are also electronic devices and GPS devices available to help know where someone is at all times.

 • Prepare the home for wandering. Families can do this by considering products that can keep seniors living with dementia safe at home, such as higher security locks or alarms for doors

. • Keep walkways well-lit and create a safe space for seniors to wander by closing off certain parts of a room and locking doors.