How to Care for a Parent With Dementia Who Wanders

If you are the adult child and primary caregiver of a senior parent with dementia who wanders, you may feel as if you are at wit’s end with some degree of regularity. You may find yourself not only increasingly frustrated about your parent’s wandering behavior but also significantly concerned about the safety of your mother or father. Through this article, we present you some basic information about how to care for a parent with dementia who wanders:

  • Why do dementia patients wander?
  • Practical tactics to reduce the risk of wandering
  • Professional caregiver assistance
  • Dementia daycare program
  • Residential memory center

Why Do Dementia Patients Wander?

By the time an individual diagnosed with dementia begins to wander, that individual typically is at a stage in which he or she is unable to explain why he or she desires to wander. Dementia has progressed to a point where a dementia patient cannot accurately express why he or she is doing something, including the decision to wander off.

With that noted, researchers and dementia care specialists have identified several underlying reasons why a person with this condition begins to wander. These include:

  • Agitation – Agitation is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. A dementia patient’s agitation level can worsen due to medications. The resulting anxiety, nervousness, and restlessness associated with agitation can cause a person with dementia to wander.
  • Stress or fear – People with dementia may want to move or leave their current area because they are stressed or feel scared by what they perceive as an unfamiliar situation or environment.
  • Searching – Another reason why people with dementia wander is that they are looking for someone or something. They wander in search of this person or thing because they are in an environment or frame of mind that they do not understand in their current reality.
  • Boredom – A very basic reason patients with dementia wander is that they are bored. They wander because they are looking for something to do.
  • Basic Needs – Sometimes, people with dementia may need something. For example, they may seek a restroom, food, and water or want to be outside.
  • Previous events – Finally, a common reason why individuals with dementia may wander is that they are trying to follow previous routines. These include going to work, buying groceries, and meeting friends or family.

Practical Tactics to Reduce the Risk of Wandering

If you are the primary caregiver of your parent with a dementia diagnosis who also wanders, there are some practical and often relatively effective tactics you can employ to reduce the risk of wandering. These include:

  • Keep your parent occupied: As mentioned a moment ago, boredom or looking for something to do is one of the underlying reasons a senior parent with dementia might wander.
  • Keep your parent from becoming hungry: You want to ensure your senior parent eats a healthy diet. Nonetheless, it usually is wise to make snacks available to your parent with dementia who has the propensity to wander. One of the reasons a person with dementia might wander is because he or she is in search of food because he or she feels hungry. You can opt for healthier snacks, but you need to make certain these snacks are something your parents enjoy.
  • Locks on doors: Install a deadbolt lock on the exterior door of your parent’s residence. You may want to install it at a higher or lower level than normal, so it is not near eye level.
  • Mirrors on doors: You might want to consider the placement of a full-length mirror on doors you do not want a wandering parent to go through. The image of “another person” in a mirror often stops someone with dementia from proceeding through a door.
  • Stop signs on doors or other areas: Place stop signs on doors you don’t want a parent with dementia to go through. The usual response to a stop sign is so ingrained that it often continues to evoke that same response for an individual in a later stage of dementia.
  • ​​Alarms: You can install an alarm on the exterior doors. The alarm will sound any time a wandering parent tries to exit.  
  • GPS monitoring service: You might also want to consider a Global Positioning System service seriously. These are available through several online companies and a variety of different options. They usually have an initial cost and often an ongoing monthly fee.
  • Enroll in the Alzheimer’s Association MedicAlert + Safe Return program: This program from the Alzheimer’s Association provides you with an ID bracelet or pendant with information about your loved one. It also has 24 hours a day emergency response system that includes law enforcement notification if your loved one is missing.

Professional Caregiver Assistance

Your parent’s dementia may have progressed to a stage where you cannot provide all necessary caregiving assistance independently. You cannot blame yourself for reaching a limit on what you believe you can effectively do regarding caring for a wandering parent with dementia.

You might want to give serious consideration to engaging the services of a professional caregiver service. For example, you could arrange for a home care aide with a background in working with dementia patients to be present to assist in caring for your parent for a set amount of time each day. At a minimum, this gives you a break from having full responsibility for caring for your parent and keeping your mother or father safe.

Dementia Daycare Program

Similarly, you may consider arranging for your parent to attend a dementia daycare program. Some daycare programs for seniors provide a wide range of services, programs, and activities for seniors, including individuals with dementia.

Residential Memory Center

Finally, your parent may be at a stage of dementia where it makes more sense for your mother or father to reside in a memory care center. These facilities are designed specifically for the needs of individuals with dementia. This includes amenities and protocols designed specifically for the care and protection of people with dementia, including those who wander.