Close up of a grandfather having breakfast with his grandchildren

Understand Wandering and How it Impacts Individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia

Understand Wandering and How it Impacts Individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia

When someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease becomes confused or disoriented it’s common for them to wander. In fact, researchers estimate that sixty percent of individuals living with Alzheimer’s or dementia will wander at least once and many will do so repeatedly. Although common, wandering can be dangerous and creates a lot of stress for caregivers and families.

What Triggers Wandering?

Individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia may wander for a wide range of reasons including emotional distress, medical conditions, or because they want to get away from a certain situation. When they do try to leave, the individual may forget what happened, get disoriented, and begin to wander.

Here are some common wandering triggers:

Revisiting Old Routines or Activities

People living with dementia may become lost by trying to follow old routines and complete tasks that were once part of their everyday lives. They may attempt to drive to an old workplace or walk down the street to wait for one of their kids at the bus stop. This can result in disorientation and lead to wandering.


A person may be looking for someone or something that’s not there anymore. For example, a room may spark a memory of a child who is grown and, in another city, or a set of keys may cause them to look for an old car they no longer own. Once they start searching it can spark wandering as the senior gets disoriented.


A hectic, noisy environment such as a family get-together can overwhelm someone with Alzheimer’s causing them to become agitated and try to exit the home.  This is a common symptom of this disease, and it can be magnified by some medications.

Basic Daily Needs

Because a person with Alzheimer’s disease might be hungry, thirsty, or need to use the restroom but doesn’t recognize their surroundings, wandering behavior may result. In many cases they can’t recognize these needs or verbalize them so they become agitated and may try to leave the house.

Tips to Manage Wandering Behaviors

For caregivers of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, wandering can be difficult to manage. But by Identifying triggers and implementing a few basic best practices you can find solutions to help reduce the risk of wandering.

Provide Adequate Supervision

When an individual is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, they may be able to be left alone for short periods of time. As their condition progresses, closer supervision will become necessary. It’s important to keep a close eye on them in new or changing environments or situations where wandering behavior might be triggered.

Hide ‘Leaving’ Signs

It’s important to keep items such as car keys or coats out of sight so you don’t prompt someone to think they’re supposed to go out and do something. It’s especially important to keep keys hidden if a person with Alzheimer’s has a history of trying to take the car and shouldn’t be driving.

Stay Busy

Keeping a person engaged will make them less likely to wander. Seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia who are bored can get restless so make sure they are getting physical and mental exercise, especially during times of day they are prone to wander.

Label and Remind

Verbal reminders help seniors maintain a comfort level in familiar settings. Signs for the bathroom, bedrooms, or their favorite chair combined with verbal reminders can help reduce stress that could lead to wandering.

Don’t Correct – Redirect:

It’s important to not correct someone with dementia who is asking to “go home” or to work. Instead, redirect them to another activity such as sitting down for a drink, working on a puzzle, or listening to music. Trying to limit mobility or arguing tends to make things worse, which leads to distress and amplifies behavioral problems.

Dive Deeper Into Understanding Wandering Risks As a Caregiver

6 in 10 people with dementia will wander at least once. As a family caregiver, it can be challenging to recognize the signs of potential wandering, much less make preparations to prevent it. The NCOA created the guide, Understanding Wandering Risks With Older Adults, that aims to help caregivers understand and plan for wandering by discussing the following:

  • The physical (and emotional) dangers of wandering
  • How to recognize common warning signs & triggers
  • What caregivers can do to prepare ahead of time

Looking for Alzeihmer’s Care Near Nashville?

Burton Court at Blakeford Memory Care is an integral part of Blakeford’s continuum of care. Our licensed, secure memory care neighborhood serving the Nashville, TN community provides an intimate, boutique-style approach to providing outstanding care for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in a home-like setting. To learn more about Burton Court, contact us today.