Alzheimer's: Understand wandering and how to address it

Alzheimer's causes disorientation, which can lead to wandering. Here's how to curb or prevent wandering, as well as ensure a safe return if your loved one is lost.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Wandering or getting lost is common among people with dementia. This behavior can happen at any stage of Alzheimer's. If your loved one has Alzheimer's, he or she is at risk of getting lost — even if he or she has never wandered in the past.

Understand wandering

There are many reasons why a person who has Alzheimer's might wander, including:

  • Stress or fear. Your loved one might wander as a reaction to an unfamiliar or overstimulating environment, a loud noise or a situation he or she doesn't understand.
  • Searching. He or she might get lost while searching for someone or something.
  • Boredom. He or she might be looking for something to do.
  • Basic needs. He or she might be looking for a bathroom or food, or want to go outdoors.
  • Following past routines. He or she might try to go to work, do chores or buy groceries.

Prevent wandering

Wandering is not necessarily harmful if it occurs in a safe and controlled environment. However, wandering can pose safety issues.

To prevent unsafe wandering identify why the wandering might be happening. For example, if your loved one tends to wander at the same time every day or when he or she is bored, plan meaningful activities to keep him or her better engaged. If your loved one is searching for a spouse or child, post a sign stating that the person in question will be visiting soon to provide reassurance and reduce wandering.

July 28, 2015 See more In-depth