If you have a loved one with dementia, you may face the challenge of ‘wandering’ at some point. Wandering is exactly as it sounds, with the person wandering away from where they are expected to be. To make things more stressful for families and carers, people with dementia who wander are often unable to communicate where they went or why. This is because of their failing memory or declining ability to communicate.
Although wandering can be stressful for families and carers, it is a common trait of people living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. One of the benefits of Aged Care is that it is designed to care for seniors with special needs such as dementia care. But if you’re caring for someone with dementia at home, there can be different challenges.
If this is something you’re dealing with, you’re not alone.
Over 400,000 Australians are currently living with dementia, and over 1.5 million Australians are involved in their care, according to Dementia Australia.
What is wandering?
Wandering – also known as ‘exit-seeking behaviour’ – is the tendency many people with dementia have to move aimlessly, often without knowing where they’re going or why. People might want to leave where they are because they become confused or disoriented, and they can wander indoors or outdoors. It can happen at any stage of dementia, and it’s natural to want to learn what you can to help stop dementia patients wandering in order to keep them safe.
Early signs of wandering
Recognising the early signs of wandering can help you to intervene early if you’re engaged in some form of dementia care with your loved one. Some common indicators include:
- repeatedly trying to leave the house or a room
- becoming disoriented in familiar surroundings
- being easily distracted.
If you see your loved one behaving in this way, it can help to be vigilant and keep a record of these signs to report to their doctor, and to ensure their safety.
The dangers of wandering
Wandering can pose several risks for seniors with dementia:
- They may become lost, confused, or disoriented.
- They may have an increased risk of accidents, injuries, or falls.
- They may put themselves into dangerous situations, such as crossing busy roads or entering unfamiliar homes or buildings.
- If they wander for prolonged periods, they may be exposed to nutritional deficiencies, exhaustion, dehydration, and exposure to extreme weather conditions.
It’s best to stop dementia patients wandering if possible, and recognising the early signs and can help you to know what you can do to help.
What you can do about wandering
While you may not always be able to stop your loved one from wandering, there are strategies that can help you to manage and minimise the risks. You may want to print this list below and have it on hand, or share it with someone who will find it helpful.
How to minimise the risks of wandering associated with dementia
1. Establish a safe environment
Ensure the living space is secure and free from hazards. Install locks, alarms, and motion sensors on doors and windows to alert caregivers when they are opened. Remove objects that could potentially cause harm, such as sharp items or toxic substances.
2. Create routine and familiarity
Create a structured daily routine to help reduce anxiety and restlessness. Familiarity can provide a sense of security for people with dementia. Place familiar objects and photographs around the living space to help your loved one to feel calm and comfortable. Try to limit exposing your loved one to new environments or busy areas such as shopping centres if you think this could be stressful for them.
3. Provide reassurance
If your loved one feels lost, anxious or disoriented, try to stay calm and help them to settle.
4. Provide opportunities for engagement
Structured and meaningful activities planned throughout the day can help to create interest and alleviate boredom.
5. Make identification and communication easy
Make sure your loved one wears identification at all times, such as a bracelet or pendant with contact information. It can also be helpful to let their neighbours and local authorities know about their condition. They may be able to help or call you if they see anything happening.
6. Identify ‘challenging’ times of the day
Is there a time that your loved one tends to wander the most? Many people with dementia can tend to wander around early evening, for example – this is called ‘sundowning’. If you do identify a particular time for wandering, try planning an engaging activity around that time. This can help reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness. If your loved one tends to wander during the night if they get up to use the toilet, you might like to try limiting (but not eliminating) liquids two hours before bedtime to reduce their need to get up in the night.
7. Ensure basic needs are being met
Does your loved one have easy access to a toilet, and to the food and drink they need?
8. Provide supervision and support
Provide constant supervision, especially during periods of increased agitation or confusion. Engage your loved one in activities that stimulate their mind and body, such as puzzles, games, and exercises. These types of activities can often help to reduce restlessness.
Download and print a PDF version of this list to keep on the fridge or somewhere handy for reference.
How Tricare deals with wandering
Over two-thirds (68.1%) of Aged Care residents in Australia have some form of moderate to severe cognitive impairment – including dementia. Facility Manager at TriCare Mt Gravatt, Paula McFarlane, says TriCare staff are well trained in the specialised care required, and TriCare’s Aged Care Residences are well set up to provide support for people with dementia. This is one of the many benefits of residential Aged Care.
“All of TriCare’s Aged Care Residences offer dementia care and specialised care. This ensures your loved one will experience superior clinical and social care in an environment that promotes familiarity, comfort, and independence,” says Paula.
“In most cases, people with dementia or cognitive impairments are not required to live in a secure area. But some of our locations offer Secure Memory Support Units for residents who wander, become confused or agitated, or experience challenging behaviours due to a cognitive condition.
“Our Secure Memory Support Units allow residents to move freely and access lounges, dining areas and gardens as they please, and these areas are fully secured to provide continued freedom and comfort for our residents. Our Secure Memory Support Unit residents receive the same care and inclusions as our permanent care residents, plus that additional memory support and security.”
Coping with a loved one’s dementia can be a challenge, especially if they are intent on living independently. But by understanding the early signs and implementing preventive measures, it is possible to minimise the risks associated with wandering.
If you think your loved one may benefit from secure dementia care, our friendly TriCare team will be happy to show you around one of our facilities, and explain how we can provide specialised care for your loved one. Get in touch or book a tour by filling in the form below.