The Dangerous Symptom of Wandering

Wandering can be caused by many conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder, Down Syndrome, and dementia (which can result from Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, head injuries, and Parkinson’s disease).

Whatever the condition, the anxiety for caregivers/family members is the same. It can become overwhelming. You may jump out of bed at every creak in the night, worried that your client/loved one has walked out of the house.

Of course, no one can watch another person every second of every day. We’re only human, and even the best and most dedicated caregiver can’t fully prevent wandering.

A person with Alzheimer’s may not remember his or her name or address, and can become disoriented, even in familiar places. Wandering among people with dementia is dangerous, but there are strategies and services to help prevent it.

Wandering is a symptom of Sundown Syndrome that can put your client/loved one in danger. You may have to install a fence with locked gates if you need to give the Sundown sufferer access to the outdoors. Put an identification bracelet on the person’s wrist, and alert the neighborhood about the possibility that your loved one may get lost.  Of course, locks that can’t be opened from the inside are your best bet. This is difficult, as it may cause stress to the Sundowner’s sufferer, but it’s a better solution than the dangers of wandering. It also will offer you a better night’s sleep than warning bells on the doors, which will only awaken you every time your client/loved one tries to leave. Even putting up signs “STOP” or “DO NOT ENTER” might be helpful and prevent them from going out the door.

Just as you wouldn’t leave a small child alone in a car, never leave a person with any type of dementia alone in a car. Confused people can much too easily forget they’re waiting for someone and start the car or wander off.

Increase Physical activity.  This might not apply to everyone. But some experts believe that getting physical activity during the day can help prevent wandering at night.  Maybe take your client/loved one for a walk around the block after dinner to help reduce the nighttime agitation.

People with Sundown Syndrome may lose their ability to understand your need for privacy, especially if they wander. While you work hard to be sensitive to your client/loved one’s needs, don’t forget your own. If necessary, install locks on your bedroom and bathroom doors. If this proves stressful for the Sundown sufferer, you can try setting a timer to reassure the person that you will return when the timer goes off. This may or may not work, but there’s a good chance it will alleviate the stress by giving a specific time for your return rather than something open-ended and abstract.

In many cases, a client/loved one’s wandering may not have a reason.  But sometimes, caregivers come to understand that there’s a motive behind it and figure out ways to prevent wandering.  If a client with dementia becomes agitated and wanders at night, maybe it’s initially triggered by something simple like being thirsty, or hungry. Maybe leave a glass of water with a few crackers by the bed might help.

Please make sure you discuss these issues with the family, and our agency so everyone is on board and made aware.