Helping Those Prone to Wander

Amid the numerous challenges of Alzheimer’s disease, wandering is one of the most disconcerting.

When loss of memory and confusion set in, those with Alzheimer’s may find themselves lost and unable to find or receive help, even if the surroundings were formerly familiar. Perhaps most disturbing of all is that more than six in 10 people with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia will wander, according to the Alzheimer’s Association—and if they’re not found within 24 hours, as many as half will suffer serious injury or death. As such, the Association encourages individuals and families coping with wandering to enroll in the nationwide identification program MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® ( or (888) 572-8566).

Mayo Clinic notes that wandering can occur at any stage of the disease. But there are potential reasons a person with Alzheimer’s will stray. Among them, Mayo Clinic reports:

  • Stress or fear, perhaps as a reaction to an unfamiliar or overstimulating environment;
  • Searching for something or someone;
  • Boredom;
  • An attempt to meet basic needs such as finding a bathroom or food; or
  • Following past routines, such as going to work or the store.

So what can a caregiver do? The National Institute on Aging offers a handful of suggestions:

  • Ensure the person with Alzheimer’s carries identification or wears a medical bracelet.
  • Inform area police and neighbors that the loved one is prone to wander.
  • Keep recent photos or videos on hand in case they’re needed to help in a search.
  • Lock doors, and consider installing a chime that sounds whenever a door is opened.

In addition, the Alzheimer’s Association reports, caregivers can encourage movement and exercise to reduce anxiety; ensure basic needs are met; and reassure the one who feels lost, disoriented or abandoned. It may not be possible to completely prevent them from wandering, but there’s much that can be done to help keep them safe.