April 5, 2017

Managing Challenging Behaviors: Wandering

Our 5-part blog series on managing challenging behaviors concludes with a behavior that affects at least 60% of all people living with dementia: wandering. Someone with Alzheimer's or a related dementia may not remember his or her name or address, and can become disoriented, even in familiar places. Wandering and getting lost is common among people with dementia and can happen during any stage of the disease. Although wandering can be dangerous for people with dementia, there are strategies and tactics to help mitigate this behavior.


In order to prevent a client or loved one with dementia from wandering and promote safe walking, you first need to define what they are doing, or where they’re trying to go. Reasons for wandering can range from active exit-seeking in a foreign environment, disturbing visual hallucinations that are causing extreme anxiety, or nighttime wandering, where the person with dementia may have their sleep/wake cycle reversed and think it’s time to get up and go.

Even the most dedicated caregiver can’t fully prevent their client or loved one from wandering. The Alzheimer’s Association offers the following strategies to help lower the chances of this happening:

1. Carry out daily activities. Having a routine can provide structure and minimize boredom.

2. Identify the most likely times of day that wandering may occur and plan activities and exercise that can reduce anxiety and restlessness at those times.

3. Reassure the person if he or she feels lost, abandoned or disoriented. If the person with dementia wants to leave to "go home" or "go to work," use communication focused on exploration and validation. Refrain from correcting the person. For example, "We are staying here tonight. We are safe and I'll be with you.”

4. Ensure all basic needs are met. Has the person gone to the bathroom? Is he or she thirsty or hungry?

5. Avoid busy places that are confusing and can cause disorientation. This could be a shopping malls, grocery stores or other busy venues.

6. Install locks on doors and windows and ensure they’re out of sight. Place the locks either high or low on exterior doors, and consider placing slide bolts at the top or bottom.

7. Camouflage doors and door knobs. Camouflage doors by painting them the same color as the walls, or cover them with removable curtains or screens.

8. Use devices that signal when a door or window is opened. This can be as simple as a bell placed above a door or as sophisticated as an electronic home alarm.

9. Provide supervision. Never lock the person with dementia in their home alone or leave him or her in a car without supervision.

10. Keep car keys out of sight. A person with dementia may drive off and be at risk of potential harm to themselves or others.

11. If night wandering is a problem, make sure the person has restricted fluids two hours before bedtime and has gone to the bathroom just before bed. Also, use night lights throughout the home.

This blog post is Part 5 of a 5-part series on managing challenging behaviors.


MedicAlert® + Alzheimer's Association Safe Return® is a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with Alzheimer's or a related dementia who wander or have a medical emergency.  

The Alzheimer’s Store has a variety of products to assist with wandering.