How to deal with a person with dementia who wanders off

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If you’re caring for a person with dementia you may have experienced them wandering off at some point, which can be very worrying, especially if you’re out of the house.

One in six people with dementia will wander and there are many reasons for them to do so. They might feel disorientated or frightened if they’re in unfamiliar surroundings. It could also be caused by a lack of stimulation or confusion and restlessness.

It’s important to determine the reason they might be wandering off first. If they had a specific routine or habit that they used to follow, such as going to work or doing the shopping at a certain time, they might be trying to follow this again by wandering off while you’re out or by trying to leave the house.

Note the time of day it happens if it’s a regular occurrence. Is there a pattern? For some people with dementia, symptoms may occur towards the end of the day, this is called sundowning, so note if they’re agitated or stressed. There could also be a more obvious reason, such as they’re trying to find a toilet or are hungry/thirsty.

It’s important to keep reassuring your loved-one. If you’re out and about, remind them where they are and why. It’s also important to keep them busy to reduce any desire to wander.

Restlessness can be caused by a lack of sleep, so ensuring your loved-one gets a good night’s sleep is essential and may help kerb wandering. Having a good bedtime routine can also reduce night-time activity.

If your loved-one has a tendency to try to wander out of the house, you should keep any triggers hidden or remove them completely, such as walking shoes, bags, keys etc.

It might be a good idea to cover the front door with a curtain or paint it the same colour as the inside walls.

You should also ensure they always carry a form of identification, it may be an idea to sew name tags/phone numbers into items of clothing. Also make sure neighbours are aware and that they have your contact details should they see your loved-one out on their own.