Wandering senior residents is a common, but tough, problem to manage. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and six in ten people with dementia will wander. Individuals diagnosed with dementia may become disoriented, even in familiar places. Dementia wandering has the potential to be dangerous, but there are strategies and preventative measures which you can implement in your senior living community to help those who wander.
Why Do Residents with Dementia Wander?
Before diving into Dementia Wandering prevention, it is necessary to determine what can cause a resident to wander. Maybe there aren’t enough meaningful activities to occupy their attention or the facility seems unfamiliar to them. However, residents with dementia may also wander because they are:
- Attempting to be more comfortable
- Searching for something familiar / their surroundings feel strange
- Looking for something they can’t find (bathroom, food, bed, etc.)
- Escaping a stressful situation
- Experiencing pain
- Unable to sleep
- Unable to focus on one activity for too long (becomes bored)
- Experiencing panic and /or a sense that something is wrong or bothering him/her
- Recalling a past experience (needs to go to work or feed the kids)
Preventing Seniors with Dementia From Wandering
If you have a resident who wanders, it is important to make a personal connection and to establish a relationship with the resident; these strategies may help you identify why the behavior is occurring.
1. Identifying Basic Needs in Your Resident’s Wandering Habits:
Your first step is to take care of the resident’s basic needs by ensuring that they are not hungry, thirsty, or in need of using the restroom. This also includes connecting with the resident on a personal level and conveying compassion to them so they know that they are cared for.
2. Combat Wandering by Finding Something Your Resident Can Appreciate:
Once you determine a resident’s wandering is not in response to an unfulfilled basic need, you can keep them occupied by helping to find something the resident will appreciate. Talk about or complete an activity that he or she has enjoyed in the past. This can be an activity such as painting, reading or being read to, going on walks, being helpful around the facility, or by just having a conversation with others. In addition to occupying the resident and keeping them from wandering, reminiscent activities can also help memory support residents become more comfortable with their space. Talk about or complete an activity that he or she has enjoyed in the past. This can be an activity such as painting, reading or being read to, going on walks, being helpful around the facility, or by just having a conversation with others.
3. Approach Their Dementia Wandering with Redirected Suggestions in an Non-Authoritative Manner:
Another approach to redirecting “meaningless” wandering is to replace it with purposeful wandering. Redirect by example instead of demanding the individual follow your direction. Suggest something like, “I would like to go sit by the window. Will you join me?” This allows you to direct their focus away from wandering in a non-authoritative way. Keep in mind that a meaningful activity for one resident will be different from a meaningful activity for another resident. This is part of the reason why personal relationships and connections with individual residents are truly important. Redirect by example instead of demanding the individual follow a direction. Say something similar to, “I would like to go sit by the window. Will you join me?” This way, you are directing their focus away from wandering in a non-authoritative way.
4. Establish A Routine to Minimize Wandering:
A final recommendation to minimize wandering is to initiate a regimen with the resident. This provides structure and familiarity to your resident. Remember, though: memory support residents should maintain as much independence as possible. This can be incorporated into the routine by allowing the resident to make choices and use their skills to the best of their ability.
Is Wandering Becoming a Problem?
Once you identify why a resident is wandering, decide if the resident’s dementia wandering is a problem. Problem wandering includes:
- Invading others’ privacy
- Entering unsafe areas
- If the patient becomes agitated or frustrated while wandering.
If you know that certain residents have a history of wandering, make sure the community is safe for them and provide additional supervision. Walking areas should be clear to prevent tripping and falling, and all exits should be secured to ensure that wandering is contained within the building. Caregivers may even walk alongside a wandering resident to make sure they are as comfortable as possible. Likewise, caregivers may walk alongside a wandering resident to make sure they are as safe.
For more information on how caregivers can help residents coping with Alzheimer’s or dementia and to prevent senior wandering, refer to SeniorLivingU’s collection of free Alzheimer’s monthly in-service resources.