Often, a person with dementia may go walking about, this is frequently referred to as wandering. The term wander means to walk or move in a leisurely or aimless way and therefore it is perhaps a little unhelpful since people with dementia who go wandering will likely have a reason for it.
Many of us enjoy going for a walk, people with dementia are no different. Walking is good for us, it is good exercise and great for our mental health.
People with dementia may repeatedly walk around the house or leave and go wandering outside at any time of day or night. Problems with orientation and memory are associated with dementia and this can make it hard for them to find their way home. It could be a sign that they have an unmet need and trying to understand that need and looking for solutions may help. It can be difficult to find out the reason since when you ask them, the person may not remember or be able to tell you.
Reasons for wandering or walking about may include:
- Memory loss and confusion
- Relieving pain or restlessness
- Boredom and a lack of activity
- Continuing a habit and staying independent
- Feeling lost or looking for someone
A person with dementia might start a walk with an objective in mind but forget and become lost. They might be trying to visit a person or place or be searching for an item. Keeping some favourite personal items nearby might help.
People with dementia often become confused about the time perhaps getting up and dressed in the middle of the night. There are large clocks available which can help with this. Perhaps they are having difficulty sleeping – consider what might be causing that, perhaps caffeine, alcohol, mealtimes. Often sleep is improved by taking exercise.
Reducing risk whilst maintaining independence, safety, and dignity
When helping a person with dementia and intending to limit risk, it is important to help them maintain their independence, safety, and dignity as far as possible.
- Can you create a circular path in the garden with eye-catching points of interest?
- Is there a local group that may be able to offer support?
- Can you accompany your loved ones out and make sure they are wearing appropriate clothing?
- Making sure they carry identification can help – perhaps sew this information onto a jacket or handbag, or they could wear an identification bracelet.
- If they have a phone, add an ICE (In Case of Emergency) no. to the phone.
- With consent, consider, using a tracking device to locate by GPS.
- Door alarms and sensors can help – some even play a message to ask the person not to leave.
- Distracting them with an activity, even an everyday task, can help.
You must not use medication, such as sleeping tablets, to prevent the person from waking during the night. Strong doses may lead to falls, worsen memory problems or lead to incontinence.
Also locking doors to prevent people from leaving should be avoided. It can be very dangerous if there is an accident or a fire.
Care visits to provide companionship can really help people with dementia to maintain their independence, safety, and dignity as far as possible whilst reducing risk. If you would like Gardiner’s Homecare to help support you with this, please do get in contact.
What to do if the person you are caring for disappears
- Stay calm.
- Conduct a brief ‘open door’ search of the address, grounds, and outbuildings, to see if you can find them.
- If they’re still missing then call 999 immediately.
- Consider places the person likes or has visited a lot in the past as they may have gone there.
- Tell the local police.
- Keep a recent photograph of the person to help identify them.
- Perhaps carefully use local social media groups to ask local people to help.
When they return
- Don’t react angrily or criticise them.
- If they were lost and anxious be reassuring.
- Look after yourself and talk to a family member, friend, or professional.
The Herbert Protocol is a form that contains a list of information to help the police if a person goes missing. It is named after George Herbert, a war veteran, who lived with dementia. He died whilst ‘missing’, trying to find his childhood home. Being prepared by having completed this form will help and will save time. The police only need the form at the point the person is reported missing.
Other useful resources
www.medicalert.org.uk – jewelry engraved with details about the person’s condition, an identification number, and a 24-hour emergency phone number.
www.walk4life.info – Walk4Life is part of the NHS Change4Life initiative. The website offers information on local walks, events, and walking groups.