Education and Care

Behavioral Challenges:  
Coping With...Wandering

This behavior includes attempting to leave, roaming, visiting and rummaging. To assure safety, individuals should be assessed to determine possible causes of these episodes, and treated with behavioral, medical or pharmacological interventions.

  • Do not leave a person with dementia home alone.

  • Monitor and record the individual's wandering patterns—frequency, duration, time of day, etc. For example, if wandering occurs first thing in the morning, they might be hungry; in the late afternoon or early evening, they might be experiencing "sundowning"; and during the night, they might need to use the bathroom.

  • Consult with a physician to see if medications can help. Individuals who wander as a result of delusions or hallucinations may require psychotropic medications.

  • Provide recreational activities—music therapy, physical exercise or movies, for example—to reduce boredom, under-stimulation or lack of socialization that prompts wandering.

  • Ensure that the individual is well fed, well hydrated and using the bathroom since individuals may wander to fulfill these basic needs. Consider setting a schedule.

  • Reduce environmental stimuli like loud music, screaming or overcrowding that might spark this behavior.

  • Outfit the individual with an identification bracelet, and put some form of identification in every jacket, pocketbook or other article.

  • Obtain a wristband transmitter, such as those used by Project Lifesaver, to more easily track wanderers.

  • Have a current photo readily available and find out about leaving one on file at the police department.

  • Secure doors in a way that are difficult to open.

  • Add electronic chimes or doorbells so a caregiver is alerted if the individual attempts to exit.

  • Identify bathrooms and other rooms with colorful signs to re-orient individuals.

  • Post a large sign that says "stop" or "do not enter" on exits.

  • Mask exit doors with a curtain.

  • Place a black mat or paint a black space by an exit, which may appear to be an impassable hole to those with dementia. Likewise, a large line, strip of tape or VelcroTM may act as a barrier.

  • Provide familiar objects, such as family photographs, slippers and a quilt, to an individual living in a long-term care facility to make it feel like home.

  • Put away essential items, such as the person's coat, shoes, pocketbook or glasses, since some individuals will not go out without certain articles.

  • Tell neighbors about the person's wandering behavior and make sure they have your phone number.

  • Look for changes in patterns. For example, those who begin to wander after a prolonged period in a facility may suffer from a new medical, psychiatric or cognitive complication. For instance, delirium may produce the abrupt onset of wandering.

  • Check out in advance if your state has a missing persons alert system, most commonly known as Silver Alert. Click here for a state listing of Silver Alert programs.

For more information, connect with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s licensed social workers. Click here or call 866.232.8484. Real People. Real Care.

Alzheimer's Foundation of America  866.232.8484