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On The Move

By Jennifer Bradley, Staff Writer

(Page 1 of 5)

For a caregiver, one of the most anxiety-causing side effects of dementia is wandering. With this diagnosis, caregivers come to expect severe memory loss and confusion as to time and place, but usually they are not prepared for the constant “watch” they must have on their loved one.

Nearly 60 percent of all people with dementia wander, especially in the middle stages. There are many facets to this unpredictable behavior, and the causes are as numerous as the tactics people have used to curtail them. In the end, knowing an individual’s personality, prior lifestyle and triggers which may send them “on the move” will make all the difference.

Knowledge is Key

If a previous homemaker was accustomed to retrieving her children from the bus every day at 3:30 p.m., and as a senior with dementia, she wanders at that time habitually, it’s time to connect the dots. Her wandering pattern is the reason people wake up at the same time each morning without an alarm clock. Those set schedules become a part of the person. The triggers which initiate wandering are different for individuals. No two individuals have identical life experiences and past daily routines; not even driving or walking habits.

When a man lives in New York City his entire life, and then is moved to small-town Wisconsin so his daughter can care for him, it’s understandable he craves some sense of his former life. Plagued with dementia, however, he doesn’t understand that his neighbor from Queens is no longer a short stroll down the sidewalk. Thus, taking a walk becomes a dangerous wandering risk when he can’t find his friend’s home.

A loved one’s former work schedule also can be a clue to wandering patterns. What time did they start? What time did they arrive back home? Some people believe they are at work all day and try to leave when the sun sets, searching for a way home. They may look for a bus stop, train station, even parking garage. Anxiety might creep in when they feel unable to leave and care for their families. Many times a person with dementia says, “Why are you making me stay here?” For a caregiver, knowing these seemingly insignificant “life” facts can make a day less stressful and more predictable.

The Source of Wandering

As the professionals at Mayo Clinic emphasize, many wanderers are either searching for or escaping from something.

Often, wandering occurs for no other reason than mere confusion. When a person with dementia becomes lost and disoriented after leaving a restroom at a public setting and cannot place themselves, it is a sign they may need additional supervision. 


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