Why Do People With Alzheimer’s Wander?

Have you noticed that people with Alzheimer’s tend to wander aimlessly as if they’re searching for something?  Is this a trait of the disease or just a heightened awareness and worry for their safety that makes this behaviour more noticed?

In speaking with Alzheimer’s caregivers many have notice the person they are responsible does the same thing.  Experts in the brain disease have theories as to why this occurs but there aren’t any hard facts to prove why Alzheimer’s people wander.

Why does an Alzheimer patient wander?

As Alzheimer’s Disease progresses, caregivers generally become more concerned with their safety.  It isn’t as straightforward as the disease causes this behaviour.  Prior to being diagnosed, this behaviour may have been considered normal everyday activity, similar to most people going for a walk for exercise.

Because Alzheimer’s patients become disoriented and lose their sense of reasoning and their cognitive function, this behaviour gets labelled as wandering.  If the patient becomes disoriented while out on a stroll it is easier for them to become lost and unable to return home.  This will make the behaviour appear more like mindless wandering.

There are theories around why Alzheimer’s people wander.  Some believe they become bored with the level of care they are receiving and want to escape being restrained to the same “safe” and “simple” behaviours.  They want to do something more challenging and go looking for different environments to stimulate themselves as a form of self-medicated therapy.

Some have speculated they recall memories of their former lives and are looking for something to remind them of how things used to be.  Why others feel they simply want to be anywhere and to be doing something.

This behaviour has also been seen in people suffering with dementia.

How do you deal with an Alzheimer’s person who is prone to wandering?

As a caregiver, it is important to recognize the behaviour and build a routine around it.  Create a walking program that will have you involved with their “wandering” and use it to your advantage as part of the care provided.  Take them on walks to familiar settings around the garden or a park.  Have them interact with people there and encourage this interaction to stimulate their minds.

Keep in mind the urge to wander can hit an Alzheimer’s person at anytime.  As the disease progresses, you must be prepared for them talking their stroll at anytime of the day or night.  Sundowning or Sundown Syndrome may spark a period of unrest where Alzheimer’s patients will want to wander as well.

Ensure the doors are secured when you are asleep and take some precautions to alert you should they attempt to get out of your care.

Hanging a set of bells on the door-handle or installing a buzzer that activates when the door opens can alert the caregiver that someone has opened the door.

Other hi-tech solutions such as ankle bracelets and GPS units may be available through your local Alzheimer’s Society to assist you in finding them if they do get out unnoticed.  Provide the local police departments with a picture of the Alzheimer’s patient with their home address and emergency contact numbers.  This way they can contact the caregiver immediately should the Alzheimer’s wanderer be found.

While in your care, if you are noticing they are attempting to leave and wander, call out to them by their name.  If they are your mother or father, “mom” and “dad” will not work because this brain disease often places the people back in their mind to a time when they were much younger when they were not mom or dad.

Ultimately you can look to having the person fixed with a non-removable ID such as a bracelet, anklet or dog tag.  You can include their name, contact number and their condition on these tags.  Having them affixed to their person and not on a piece of clothing is crucial because Alzheimer’s people tend to lose their wallets, purses and jackets rather easily.

Planning for the safe care of an Alzheimer’s person will allow the caregiver to cope with the wandering and provide a much healthier living environment for the patient.

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  1. That’s a million dollar question….Why does an Alzheimer person wander???? As a caregiver, i’ve pondered that same question and have still found no answers. I’ve tried to relate the wandering to periods of increased confusion/disorientation, bordem and even the need for recollection as you have mentioned but have still been unable to make a definite connection. There seems to be no rationale as to “why” but only a deep hardwired “need” within the individual affected by Alzheimers to roam. Do they find it soothing? Is it an avenue to increase their frustrations? Maybe, who knows. Personally, I don’t think we will ever fully understand the “why” portion and agree our focus should be on managing the behaivor.
    Great tips by the way! Another tip you may wish to try is camouflaging the doors or doorknobs(paint doors the same color as the walls or cover knobs with decorative cloth) this will make exits less noticable. You can also paint a black square/circle in front of the door or use a darkened mat, Alzheimer’s people often preceive this as a hole in the ground and will refuse to cross.
    There is no instruction manuel in caring for a loved one affected by Alzheimer’s Disease, management and coping techniques are often found through trial and error. Be Creative!!!

  2. Joanne,

    I think my father is reliving things in his past. I don’t know your Father’s past, but he could be doing things he did for a living. My father want to plow the fields, or fish. Back in the day you went out side to pee. He has reverted back to that mentality.

    God bless you and your family.

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