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Understanding and preventing wandering among residents with dementia

Understanding and preventing wandering among residents with dementia

Wandering and elopement risks are significant concerns for long-term care facilities and caregivers across the country. For older adults suffering from dementia, this unsafe wandering can be extremely dangerous and even life threatening. Despite this risk, the Alzheimer's Association states that 6 in 10 individuals suffering from dementia will wander. Any one resident who can walk and has memory problems could be at risk for unsafe wandering. It's important to understand who is most at risk and discuss various preventative strategies in order to keep older residents safe from harm. 

What are warning signs of potential wandering?
Older adults who are in the late throes of dementia are not the only individuals at risk for wandering. Even those in the very early stages of dementia can become confused or disoriented for moments of time, leading to wandering or elopement. The Alzheimer's Association states that a few warning signs for wandering include:

  • Wanting or attempting to go home, even while at home.
  • Making restless movements or pacing. 
  • Asking where past friends and loved ones are.
  • Trying to go to a past job or location.
  • Appearing lost in a new environment.
  • Having difficulty locating familiar places, such as a bedroom or kitchen.

Additionally, the Mayo Clinic writes that there are numerous reasons why someone suffering from Alzheimer's or another form of dementia might be prone to wander. Some of these include stress, boredom, searching, fear or following past routines. 

"The best way to prevent wandering is to be prepared."

How can you prevent wandering?
The best way to prevent wandering is to be prepared. If you want to keep your older adults safe, you must learn to identity the times of day when wandering is most likely to occur and plan activities during those time that are likely to reduce anxiety, restlessness or confusion. For example, engaging in fun activities during these times will keep your residents active and less likely to become agitated or disoriented and wander.

Encourage your residents to follow a daily schedule that will provide them with the structure they need to feel reassured about what they are doing. If they are used to eating at a set time, exercising afterwards and then socializing after that, they will know what to expect and might not grow as confused about what to do next. 

If you do notice a resident growing agitated or upset, refrain from correcting or just telling your residents what to do or how to feel. Instead, reassure them and emphasize that you will be with them and that they are safe. Be proactive with your residents about wandering prevention, not reactive should an incident occur. 

To learn more about providing quality care for your residents with dementia, take one of Mariposa Training's long-term care courses, such as "Elopement Prevention 10 Strategies for Preventing Wandering and Elopement," today!

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