Understanding Dementia-Related Wandering
Understanding dementia-related wandering is essential for helping those living with a cognitive impairment to stay safe and get the best care. Dementia-related wandering is a symptom of dementia, where an individual will wander away from a familiar environment or repeat the same steps or activities over and over again. In this article, we’ll help you understand the causes, symptoms, behavior management tips, treatment options, and community care options to help you better care for a loved one showing signs of dementia-related wandering. Let’s dive in.
What causes dementia-related wandering?
Dementia-related wandering behaviors can be caused by:
Searching for something
Or even the simple desire to return “home”.
Importance of early intervention
The importance of early intervention cannot be understated — family members and caregivers should observe any changes in behavior in order to address dementia-related wandering as soon as possible. With support and guidance from medical professionals and loved ones, individuals with dementia can stay safer and will still enjoy many positive experiences during this difficult stage of life.
Identifying potential dangers in the home and surrounding areas
Taking dementia-related wandering safety measures is essential to ensuring the well-being of a loved one. This can involve recognizing potential dangers in the home, such as:
Wet spots on the floors
Poorly lit hallways or stairs
Any other tripping hazard
And outside of the house, such as:
Installing locks, alarms, and other safety precautions
Along with being aware, dementia-related wandering safety devices like door locks, wearable tech, and alarms should be installed. Additionally, it’s important to secure outdoor spaces as well. These wandering safety precautions work together to help protect a person living with dementia from potential harm.
Behavioral Approaches for Dementia-Related Wandering
Dealing with dementia-related wandering behavior can be difficult and overwhelming, but there are several effective techniques that caregivers can use when responding to dementia-related wandering.
Tips for caregivers
Engage in physical and mental activities. Engaging the mind and body is an important strategy for stimulating the mind, while developing a daily routine can provide structure and stability.
Redirection. Redirecting the person’s attention or engaging in meaningful activity can also help divert their attention away from wandering behavior.
Stay calm. Responding calmly to dementia-related wandering behavior is key, as it helps to ensure a less stressful and healthier/more trusting environment for both you as the caregiver and your care recipient. Try to keep your cool, even if you feel anything but, as you navigate the situation.
With patience and understanding, dementia-related wandering can often be decreased through these behavioral approaches.
Having dementia and caring for a loved one with dementia can be an extremely difficult experience. It can be even more painful if your loved one is struggling with dementia-related issues such as wandering.
There are multiple options for treatment that a doctor might suggest, such as antipsychotic medications or cholinesterase inhibitors.
Cholinesterase inhibitors aid in increasing memory function, though the effectiveness of this medication depends on the brand, type of dementia, and degree of dementia being treated. (Source)
Antipsychotics are only recommended as a last-resort treatment for dementia (Source). They are primarily used to alleviate psychosis behaviors such as hallucinations. They may provide helpful control of symptoms like agitation and aggression, but should always be discussed with your doctor before starting as they come with certain risks.
That’s why talking with your doctor about medications and other treatment alternatives is key to finding an effective regimen to bring relief to you and your loved one
Wandering Across the Stages of Dementia
Here's a table outlining how the tendency to wander may progress over time outlined by the different stages of dementia:
Wandering Tendencies by Stage of Dementia
Early Stage - Occasional forgetfulness, becoming lost in familiar places
Mid-Stage - Increased tendency to wander, disorientation in familiar surroundings
Late Stage - Constant wandering, difficulty recognizing familiar people and places
Taking care of a loved one with dementia is a difficult undertaking, and you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed from time to time (or all the time). Thankfully, there are many community resources available to offer guidance and support.
Support groups. Support groups provide an understanding environment for families to talk about their experiences, express emotions, and share information about caring for someone living with dementia.
Adult daycare. Adult daycare programs can give family caregivers some respite from the caregiving role by providing social activities and supervised care during the day.
In-home care. In-home care services help protect the health, safety, and independence of those affected by dementia by providing assistance with basic needs such as feeding, hygiene, or medication management.
Through these kinds of community resources, those caring for a loved one living with dementia have access to vital support in order to better manage both the physical and emotional challenges of caregiving. Our professionals at CRC OC are here to help connect you with these resources, so get into contact with us today.
If you’re providing care to someone with dementia, we invite you to check out our free resources. To get more information about the resources we have available to you as an Orange County, California caregiver, contact us at the California Caregiver Resource Center of Orange County.
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