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Dementia, Wandering and the Holidays

Why is wandering a concern during the holidays?

Caregivers should be especially alert to the possibility of wandering during the holidays.  If you are traveling with someone with dementia, be aware that the change in routine and environment can increase confusion.  People with dementia trying to go home may become lost if they become separated from their loved on while traveling. Considering bringing an extra person with you if you are traveling with a loved one, so there is always someone accompanying the person with dementia at rest stops.   Also, large celebrations at home may be overwhelming to a person with dementia. Be aware that people might leave when others are busy or distracted. You may want to consider putting alarms on your doors so that you will hear people coming and going. Cold weather always makes wandering especially concerning, as the person with dementia may not dress appropriately for the weather.  

When do I need to start worrying about wandering?

Wandering is a serious concern when you are caring for someone with dementia.  Six out of ten people with dementia will eventually wander. We are often asked when it is time to take measures to prevent wandering.  If you starting to have concerns about this, it is probably time.

Why do people wander?

Wandering is often a part of dementia because of the disorientation and confusion that come with the disease.  People do not recognize their surroundings or may believe it is an earlier time in their life when they need to go to work or care for young children.  People with dementia have trouble with the time of day and may believe it is time to get up when it is really the middle of the night. People with dementia may become frightened when they no longer recognize the family members who live with them and may leave the home to get away or to try to find their way back to a place they remember.  

Tips to prevent wandering:

Wandering can happen even if you are the most diligent of caregivers. Use the following strategies to help lower the chances.

  1. Identify the most likely times of day that wandering may occur. Plan activities at that time. Activities and exercise can reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness.

  2. Reassure the person if he or he feels lost, abandoned or disoriented. If the person with dementia wants to leave to “go home” or “go to work,” reassure the person that they do not need to leave right away.  Try to refrain from arguing or contradicting the person. You might want to say, “Your boss called and you don’t have to go in today.” Or, “we’ll go visit your mother tomorrow.  Right now we’re about to have dinner.” Or, “We are staying here tonight. We are safe and I’ll be with you. We can go home in the morning after a good night’s rest.”

  3. Avoid busy places that are confusing and can cause disorientation. This could be at shopping malls, grocery stores or other busy venues.  During the holidays, you may consider scaling back on large celebrations that might be too much for the person with dementia.

  4. Place locks out of the line of sight. Install either high or low on exterior doors, and consider placing slide bolts at the top or bottom.

  5. Camouflage doors and door knobs. Camouflage doors by painting them the same color as the walls, or cover them with removable curtains or screens. Cover knobs with cloth the same color as the door or use childproof knobs.

  6. Use devices that signal when a door or window is opened. This can be as simple as a bell placed above a door or as sophisticated as an electronic home alarm.

  7. Keep car keys out of sight. A person with dementia may drive off and be at risk of potential harm to themselves or others.

  8. If night wandering is a problem… Make sure the person has restricted fluids two hours before bedtime and has gone to the bathroom just before bed. Also, use night lights throughout the home.

  9. Provide supervision. Never lock the person with dementia in at home alone or leave him or

If your loved one is missing and is in a vehicle in Illinois, Law Enforcement can enter them in the Silver Search program  You can see information about that here: http://www.silversearchillinois.org/

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