Today, it is estimated that 60 percent of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease will display some form of wandering behavior, which will put that vulnerable individual at great risk.

There are a number of reasons an individual diagnosed with Alzheimer’s may wander, and though each circumstance will be unique to the individual, in most instances disorientation is the root cause of the behavior. Those with Alzheimer’s no longer have typically operating cognitive functions, so it is common for the act of wandering to stem from confusion, which can take a number of forms.

A multitude of reasons  

Sometimes, lack of cognitive function can cause an individual to wander aimlessly for no reason or with no destination in mind. This may also stem from the feeling of being lost, which, ironically, can cause them to actually become lost.

“All able-bodied individuals with Alzheimer’s are potentially at risk for wandering.”

Another form of wandering can be caused by an inability to recall memories and other information. Debilitated cognitive functions may cause these individuals to recall and act upon old routines, due to their ability to recall long-term memory more clearly. Wandering stemmed from this action could result in the individual trying to go to work despite being retired, or trying to return home to a residence they once lived in the past.

Escaping discomfort

Perhaps the most common trigger of wandering is one in which the person is actively trying to escape an environment or situation that is making them feel uncomfortable or nervous. In this instance, they may evade those trying to help them and quickly gain distance until they feel safe, tired, or potentially become injured. This is why it is essential as a caregiver to promote safety and comfort within the home.

All able-bodied individuals with Alzheimer’s are potentially at risk for wandering. Even in the early stages of the disease, a person can become disoriented or confused. It is important to plan for this type of situation.

Know the signs

Be aware of some of the potential wandering warning signs: If your loved one forgets how to get to familiar places. If your loved one talks about going to work. If your loved one wants to "go home," even when at home. If your loved one is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements. If your loved one is having difficulty locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or dining room. If your loved one begins to act nervous or anxious in crowded areas, such as shopping malls or restaurants.

Be prepared

The best practices as a caregiver to help protect a loved one from the consequences of a wandering episode is to plan for the behavior, prevent their ability to wander and prepare a strategy in the event a wandering episode occurs.

Plan: Create a space that your loved one feels safe in and allows for comfortable movement. If your loved one has a previous history of wandering, it is recommended that they are not left unattended.

Prevent: Wandering prevention is key and can be accomplished with locks, alarms and other mechanisms.

Prepare: Have a strategy ready to implement in the event that wandering occurs. Have personal objects, recent photos and wandering history readily available to provide to first responders. Utilize identification or locating tools and technology.

All wandering behavior is potentially very dangerous. If an individual goes missing, the longer they are missing, the more likely they are going to suffer injury or death. Wandering is a problem that knows no age and can occur in anyone with impaired cognitive function. Even if your loved one does not actively present wandering behavior, practice prevention methods — you don’t want the first time your loved one wanders to potentially be their last act.