“Wandering” is a controversial word when it comes to dementia.

Why so?

It’s common for health professionals and family carers to refer to “wandering” as a symptom of their condition but some dementia advocates, as well as people living with dementia,  do not like the term.

And perhaps rightly so.

They may even go as far as to encourage people to not call such behaviour “wandering”. Rather an unmet need of the person living with dementia.

So what actually is wandering after-all? For people with dementia, it can appear that they are walking around aimlessly, and at times quite repetitively.

It usually happens because they are agitated or confused. Sometimes it might be because they have simply forgotten where they are or what they were doing.

For some people with dementia, the cause for this so-called “wandering” is because the environment is new to them, and they feel uncertain and disoriented.

It could also be their way of expressing boredom or using up excess energy – which indicates that maybe they need more exercise.

Signs of Unmet Needs

  • The person forgets how to get to places they have been to many times and are familiar with
  • When they go out for their regular walk or activity, they return home later than usual
  • Is restless, makes repetitive movements or paces
  • Is unproductive in doing activities, for example, go to clean something but all they do is move objects around
  • Are anxious when in crowded places – such as the shops or restaurants
  • For some people, they may talk about fulfilling tasks they do not do anymore; like going to work or dropping kids off at school
  • Makes attempts to “go home” even when they are at home
  • Some people may have a hard time navigation locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or dining room

Tips to Help Minimise “Wandering”

There are a number of things that you can do to help and support someone if you think they may be struggling with dementia.

It’s important to keep the person engaged – just because they are “wandering” doesn’t mean they should stop doing productive activities. It can be helpful to give them structured, meaningful activities to do throughout the day.

Many people with dementia also have anxiety – which can cause them to become agitated and start pacing – make sure the person gets some exercise, which can reduce anxiety, agitation, and restlessness.

Remember, wandering does not exclusively mean by foot. It includes driving too, if the person is no longer driving, remove access to car keys. The person may forget that he or she can no longer drive.

If you are worried about the person leaving at night, it may be helpful to put locks or deadbolts either high or low on exterior doors. But do not make them feel like they are locked inside, because that will only make them stress more.

And most importantly, do not leave someone with dementia unsupervised in new surroundings.

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