What causes wandering in people with dementia?

Many people with dementia are prone to wandering which can be stressful for carers and loved ones. Find out why it might be happening...

One minute they’re standing next to you in a shop, the next they’ve disappeared halfway down the road – and you’re racing around trying to find them. Wandering can be hugely stressful if you’re caring for a loved one, but it’s actually quite a common issue for people affected by dementia.

In many cases, although it may appear to people that the person is simply ‘wandering’ around aimlessly, they’re often trying to get somewhere for a specific reason – walking with purpose – it’s just that the reason doesn’t quite appear to tie in with where they should be at that current time.

>> SHOP: GPS TRACKERS

While this can be a challenging symptom of dementia, if you can recognise and understand the reasons behind why someone might keep walking off or disappearing, you may be able to prevent it from happening.

Did you know? Six in 10 people with dementia will wander.

Why are they wandering?

Continuing with a habit or routine
They say old habits die hard, so if the person with dementia had a very specific routine or habit that they used to follow, they may want to carry on with this, even if it’s something that isn’t appropriate. So they may start trying to go shopping or go to their old office, because in their mind, that’s what they always did at that particular time and they think they should be there.

Boredom
Someone who is lacking in stimulation may simply decide that they’ll go looking for something to do, which means they could wander off, or simply fancy going for a walk to provide a sense of purpose.

 >> SHOP: ACTIVITIES

Restlessness or a need to burn up energy
If the person with dementia used to have a very busy or active life, and is suddenly stuck at home, or with a limited social life, they may simply have the urge to get out and about.

Confused
Ever find yourself walking into a room and then not remembering why you were in that room? This can happen a lot when you have dementia, so the person you’re caring for may be trying to ‘retrace’ their steps until they remember what it was they were doing.

Likewise, if they don’t remember an area, they may wander off until they can start identifying something familiar like a landmark. Or, they may be stuck in a memory lapse from their past, and be keen to return to a familiar spot – such as a previous house they lived in – as they recognise it.

>> SHOP: DEMENTIA TIME OF DAY CLOCKS

Looking for something or someone
Wandering may occur because they’ve suddenly decided they need to find an old friend they haven’t seen for a long time or they’re wondering where they parked the car (despite not driving for three years).

Trying to get away from something
If the situation or place they’re currently in is painful, stressful or unpleasant in any way, they may simply walk off to get away from it all. Likewise, if the environment is very noisy, they might walk off to find somewhere more quiet and peaceful – and who can blame them?!

Night wandering
Be aware that wandering can happen at any time, including the middle of the night. If someone with dementia gets easily confused with what time of day it is, you may find they start wandering at 2am in the morning because they decide they have to be somewhere and don’t understand that they’re supposed to be asleep.

For tips and strategies to deal with wandering, click here.