Wandering can be defined as moving in circular patterns, moving back and forth between two points, moving in no fixed pattern or moving to a chosen place. The duration and rate of wandering may vary and potentially carry a risk of harm.
A person living with dementia may become disorientated or distracted when they’re out, so although not technically classified as wandering, there is a risk that they will become lost. While the risk of wandering increases with advancing dementia, clients in an early stage of dementia may wander and get lost even when walking in familiar areas.
Dementia Australia assesses the triggers or causes of wandering and works with people and their carers to help reduce wandering and mitigate potential risks.
Causes may include looking for a familiar person or environment or routine, trying to escape perceived risk of harm, habitual walking, forgetting the reason for starting to walk, or even hunger. Other causes may be as a result of reaction to medication, stress, anxiety, depression, pain, infection, constipation, dehydration or other issues that may require review by a health professional. Engaging the person in meaningful activity may reduce the need to wander due to boredom.
Wandering can impact on the person negatively through an increased risk of falls, fatigue, inadequate food intake, getting lost and premature admission to a residential aged care facility. Carers are also impacted, and they may experience sleep deprivation, social isolation, reduced physical, financial and social resources, as well as a loss of privacy.
If frequent wandering is not leading to any physical and psychological distress, this walking can have physical, social or psychological benefits such as improving heart, muscle, lung, bone and mental health. Regular walking may also promote a sense of wellbeing, improve sleep and appetite and relieve boredom.
Some ways to support people who wander include:
- Ensuring they have emergency contact details on their person, for example, in their wallet or on a safety bracelet;
- Ensuring they have safe and comfortable footwear;
- Reminding them to use any mobility aids and sensory aids they have e.g. glasses or hearing aids;
- Having uncluttered walkways;
- Avoiding areas or rooms that may cause distress;
- Encouraging rest in low wandering periods to reduce fatigue such as sitting down with the person for an activity or walking with the person but take it slowly;
- If morning wandering occurs, encouraging a long walk after breakfast. If night-time wandering occurs, try a walk before bed; and
- Trying to maintain sleeping and eating routines, avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine 4-6 hours before they go to bed.
For more information and support, contact us via our 24/7 Dementia Helpline on 1800 180 023.