You can prevent wandering by keeping to regular routines, taking a note of irregular behaviour, preparing properly for the night, and wander-proofing their home.

Keeping A Wandering Parent Safe

Confusion, frustration and loneliness can all cause someone with dementia to wander. A key concern for all families is keeping a wandering parent safe.

In the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease wandering can become an increasing problem. The truth is that anyone who has memory problems and the ability to get out and about is at risk for wandering.

Walking around when your parent’s ability to comprehend and communicate is impaired expose them to danger and pile on the pressure for family and friends.

Who is at risk of wandering?

Some people have an increased tendency to wander. Signs that your parent is at risk could include:

  • Being restless, agitated or pacing around.
  • Being disorientated and confused. If your parent is asking to go home, when they already at home, for example, they may strive to get away.
  • Moving to a new environment like sheltered accommodation or a care home can increase the sense of disorientation and confusion, especially in the early days.
  • Taking longer than usual to return from regular walks or outings.
  • Making attempts to go to important places from their past; an old home, a place of work or even a school.
  • Struggling to find their way around at home, getting lost on the way to the kitchen or bathroom can lead to wandering outside to find their way.
  • An increased interest in past friends and family, may lead your parent to wander in seeking them out.

Preventing your parent wandering

We can give you lots of tips to help protect your parent- but it’s important to remember that even the most careful carer will struggle to stop a totally determined wanderer.

It can be tricky to achieve the right balance between maintaining their independence and dignity and keeping them safe. You want to protect them, not be their gaoler.

How to decrease the risk of dangerous wandering:

Regular routines: Having a daily schedule can provide structure and reassurance and help maintain function for longer.

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Spot the pattern: There may be high-risk times when your parent is more likely to wander. This can often be in the late afternoon and early evening. Try and arrange activities or outings at this time to prevent any restlessness and agitation.

Reassurance not reprimands: If your parent feels lost and confused, try not to correct or scold. Comforting them and letting them know they are safe will help them stay calm.

Sensory stimulation: When people with dementia are under-stimulated they can become bored and frustrated and seek out more interesting environments. Prevent this by listening to music together, massaging their hands, giving them tactile items to hold and baking or gardening regularly.

Complete care: Try and make sure that all their needs are met. Your parent may wander off if they are in pain, thirsty, hungry or desperate for the loo.

It can be difficult to manage alone all day and night, so try and get some help from family and friends. Carers can be hired to come into the home and lend a helping hand, they’ll help watch and support your parent and let you get a well-deserved break.

Wander-proof the home: Some simple practical changes can make the home safer and make it harder to stray.

  • Place locks or bolts high or low on outside doors, so that they are away from the sight-line
  • Install an alarm that rings when a door is opened.
  • Keep car keys hidden out of view.

Quiet nights: Night time wandering can be a real issue in advanced dementia. Protect your parent by avoiding late drinks and making sure they have emptied their bladder just before bed. Night-lights can help prevent confusion in the dark.

What should I do if my parent wanders?

When your parent disappears it’s natural to feel frightened and anxious. Help prevent panic by planning ahead.

With the right strategies in place you can make sure they’re back at home safely, smoothly and with their dignity intact.

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Get help: Make a list of local friends, family and neighbours who are happy to lend a hand. Have their phone numbers close by just in case.

Ask the professionals: Check if there’s a neighbourhood return group in your area, and always contact the police if your parent has been missing for more than fifteen minutes. Keep a recent photo to hand in case it’s needed.

Get ahead: Let friends and neighbours know that your parent sometimes wanders off. Make sure they know how to get in touch if they’re spotted out and about on their own.

Danger zones: Get to know any hazardous spots in the local area. If your loved one wanders, busy roads, ditches, rivers and lakes are areas that should be checked first, as they pose the greatest risk.

Revisiting the past: If your parent has been dwelling on old friends, hang-outs or homes, check whether they have gone to seek out these connections with the past.

Essential I.D: Make sure your parent has contact details in case they are found. An I.D bracelet such as MedicAlert, a label in their clothes or emergency contacts on their mobile can help them be returned safely and promptly.

Want to know more?

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Dr Jane Gilbert

Jane has over 20 years’ experience as a health writer and TV presenter. Jane writes on a wide variety of clinical and care topics – from explaining the latest studies and research to unpacking conditions and discussing treatment options. Jane holds a MBBS degree from Imperial College, London and spent seven years working in the NHS.

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