How to discourage wandering

It is natural to fear that a loved one with dementia may wander. Indeed, 60% of people with Alzheimer’s do get restless and head out the door. As a family member, you can’t be watchful every minute. But you can take steps to reduce the chance of wandering.

The many triggers for wandering include anxiety, hunger, delusions, sleep problems, or the need to use the bathroom.

For prevention:

  • Maintain a daily schedule. Familiar routines are reassuring. Routine also helps you ensure that basic needs, such as meals and toileting, are consistently addressed.
  • Keep your loved one occupied. Boredom is a common cause of wandering. A person who feels purposeful or engaged isn’t likely to wander off. Offer simple, repetitive activities, such as folding clothes or sweeping.
  • Store keys and coats out of sight. Catching a glimpse of keys or outdoor coats and shoes can trigger an urge to go out. Hide them from easy viewing.
  • Put indoor locks on exterior doors. Install a slide lock up high or down low (out of the usual line of vision). NEVER lock your relative inside a building all alone. If there were a fire, he or she might be too disoriented to figure out a way to escape.
  • Put signs on doors. A “Stop” or “Do Not Enter” sign can be effective on exterior doors. Similarly, “Bathroom” will help guide someone who is confused and simply can’t remember which door leads to the toilet.
  • Build a fence around the yard. This allows your loved one some time outdoors without the worry that he or she will leave the premises and get lost.
  • Reduce nighttime restlessness. A dark room and a regular sleeping schedule with no daytime naps (or caffeine!) can help. Also, leaving water or crackers beside the bed can stem a search for a midnight snack.