What Can I Do To Prevent Someone With Alzheimer's Disease From Wandering?

Kathleen Buckwalter answers: 'Preventing Wandering With Alzheimer's?'

May 4, 2009 -- Question: What can I do to prevent someone with Alzheimer's disease from wandering?

Answer: Wandering is a very common behavior in dementia.

More than half of people with the disease tend to wander -- but they may wander for different reasons. Some are carrying out an agenda, like going to work or going home to take care of their babies. And for those people, we understand what the escape-seeking behavior is.

We can create an environment that allows them to work at a desk with scratch paper or to handle young children who may come into the home or facility to visit. If we don't understand what the person is trying to do, it becomes more difficult.

But we can implement some safety measures: We can put alarms on beds and chairs, locks on doors that are out of the visual range of the person with dementia.

And we can be sure that if they do escape, that we have a means of identifying them: That may be something like the Alzheimer's Association's Safe Return Program, which includes their name and that they have a memory impairment and a 1-800-number to call if they're found wandering the streets or elsewhere. So we have a number of those kinds of programs.

We can alert neighbors and friends that wandering may be a problem and to make sure if they find the individual, to bring them back home or keep them until somebody's in the home environment.

Sometimes we can use color coding or grids on the linoleum floor to act as a barrier, painting a stop sign "do not enter", keeping doors closed, that sort of thing. All of these can help the person who wanders.

But most important would be to construct a safe wandering environment for them, which might be fencing in the backyard and putting some shrubs around, so the person can still exercise and get plenty of those wandering behaviors taken care of, but in a safe way.

In the nursing home, it might be having a wanderer's path.

All of these are interventions that we can use to help the person with Alzheimer's disease who wants to wander.