Why Do People with Dementia Wander?
by Max Gottlieb
Not every senior is at risk of wandering, but if the person you are caring for has dementia, the fear of losing him/her can be very real. In this article I’m going to talk about seniors, but the same prevention tips can be applied to anyone at risk of getting lost. Although dementia affects each individual differently, there are three main reasons that people tend to wander.
People with dementia are more susceptible to confusion than other populations. They can become disoriented about their location, sometimes even getting lost within a familiar community or neighborhood. Take note of the time of day when confusion occurs, because if you notice more confusion or disorientation occurring towards nighttime, then the person may be affected by what is called sundowner’s syndrome. If you know your family member becomes confused easily, it’s best not to leave them alone for long periods of time. This is another reason why it’s important to keep note of the time of day. If you know they’re confused at night then you can stay near them through the night. Although confusion does not necessarily equate to wandering, it is helpful to enroll the person in a local Silver Alert program if you are worried. If the senior becomes lost, Silver Alerts function much the same way as the better known, Amber Alert.
We’re all familiar with compulsive behavior, but dementia related disorders often push individuals to feel impulses to a much higher degree. One compulsion people with dementia commonly have is the feeling they need to go someplace else. They may feel the need to go to work, the store, or perhaps not even know where their destination is. The urge to go can be strong enough that sometimes they just leave. Caregivers should try to use a technique called redirection, which distracts the patient when they are stuck in a compulsive mood.
The Sensation of Needing to go home
Perhaps the most common reason people living with dementia wander is because they have a strong urge to go home. People sometimes stop feeling at home even if they’ve lived in the same house for years. They may feel their previous home, or perhaps a childhood home, is the place they truly belong. This feeling can happen with dead family members as well. Maybe they’ve forgotten their parents or other close relatives have passed away and the person you are caring for decides they need to go to their relative’s house. Since this is another form of compulsion, caregivers can use the redirection technique mentioned above. Redirecting the patient is much more successful than trying to tell the patient they are home or that the person they are looking for is no longer alive. A caregiver can instead say, “we’ll go there later,” or “he’ll be coming by soon.” This causes the elderly person to temporarily lose the desire to leave. If this type of behavior happens frequently, it may be time for the senior to live in a specific memory care facility, designed to treat people with memory disorders. A senior who is constantly attempting to leave cannot be left alone.
Do you want to know how to prepare for situations like this? Find out in our next blogpost!
ABOUT Max Gottlieb
Max Gottlieb is the content manager at Senior Planningin Phoenix, Arizona. Senior Planning is a free service, helping seniors and their families navigate the complicated process of long term care planning—from finding benefits to moving intomemory carefacilities.