Wandering in dementia

Wandering in dementia, do’s and don’ts for family 

With cognitive decline comes challenges in all areas, whether it be physical, mental, emotional, social, financial, or even spiritual. Safety becomes a priority. People with dementia, whatever the underlying cause may be, are prone to some or all of the above challenges, along with comorbidities. Memory decline is associated with stressors and burdens, now even more so with an increased working middle class in our country and world. As more people keep their jobs to ensure their financial security amidst rising costs of living and survival, our duty toward the elderly can sometimes loosen up, leading to catastrophic events. 

Wandering is not unknown to people in the world of dementia caregiving. One such incident brings up memories that I must share with you. An older lady had just moved in from another part of the state. Her daughter had brought her in to see me as a geriatrician, not once but a few times. The next time, though, she had self-driven to our office, and as she left, we thought she would be able to reach her home, as she knew the route by now. However, to our surprise, she had ended up in a shopping center parking lot, parked in front of a grocery chain, and had not reached home. She was frightened and desperate. Her daughters tried to contact her but failed. They were told by us that she had left an hour ago. Soon, the police came by and were finally able to find this woman in her car in the parking lot. We found her to have dementia, which the family refused to accept initially but eventually did. She failed the driver’s test and had her keys taken away. To a common man in public, she looked all hale and hearty, and no one would have known she had wandered off once. Such are scenarios that play out all over the world regularly, taking family, friends, and healthcare professionals by surprise. Cognitive testing must therefore be a priority with driving tests and vision/hearing tests. A lot of dementia goes unnoticed and sometimes can lead to the death of an elderly person. 

We are here to support everyone, and here are some do’s and don’ts for families of wandering elderly with cognitive challenges in random order: 

  1. Get a CGA, or Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment, by a qualified geriatrician.
  2. Understand the differences between senior living communities and care homes. For example, memory care communities or memory wings in assisted living cater to people who wander due to cognitive challenges. 
  3. Learn about the stages of cognitive decline to find a way to help the elderly in need. Not all stages lead to wandering behaviors. 
  4. Safety is the priority, and contacting the local senior services or Alzheimer’s Association to get a bracelet or necklace with the elderly’s details can help them find them easily. 
  5. Using protection like wander guards and safety codes for doors in-home or senior living can prevent wandering. 
  6. Keeping medical records updated is critical in the management of the elderly In case they wandered and need immediate medical attention. 
  7. Informing and keeping family updated with the person’s condition is important, whether through smartphones or emails. 
  8.  Knowing what times the older adult is prone to wandering can help prevent this. Sometimes these are seen more commonly at sunset… Hence, they are called “sundowning episodes.” Speaking with A Geriatrician can help solve these issues. 
  9. Preparing for the wandering is as important as prevention, for many times incidents like these happen when no one has thought of it before. 
  10. Driving tests, vision, and hearing tests are important for healthy aging irrespective of the elderly’s underlying conditions. 
  11. People who are physically capable of wandering do even if they are in wheelchairs or using walkers. Wandering can be associated with falls and other reasons for hospitalizations. 
  12. Dressing up appropriately is important at all times, for sometimes the elderly have been known to have wandered into the cold night and been exposed to frost bites. 
  13. Caregiver training is a must in senior living and at home and compliance is as much important as active participation. As it can be avoided or prevented. 
  14. Wandering risk knows no time, age, or season and awareness building is important with regular educational credits in senior living and care. 
  15. Wandering is not a curse. There should be no stigma for cognitive decline is not always secondary to Alzheimer’s, and comorbidities like diabetes and heart disease, amongst others, can equally contribute. 
  16. Addictions must be checked for by health professionals including underlying comorbid psychological issues. Alcoholism, drug intake, or even gambling or psychosis can force an elderly to try to desperately leave a home or senior living in search of satisfying the craving. 
  17. Wanderers most often do not know they have wandered, so blaming an elderly with cognitive challenges does not solve the problem. Instead redirecting with humanity is the only right way. 
  18. Wandering does cost money, and so do cognitive challenges. Families must be prepared to handle this if they are unable to move their elderly into a memory care unit. 
  19. Wandering is a burden to society as it takes away time and can cause intense stress to family, community, and the elderly. 
  20. Dementia and wandering are not synonymous and most people with cognitive decline may never attempt to wander off.   

Cognitive topics are always difficult to discuss. It is the only way we can help our beloved elderly and their families. While there are many ways to help the elderly, there are also situations where we have faltered and caused more harm. Asking for help is important, and we wrote this blog to bring about some awareness, and inspire our caring families and their elderly. We hope to share more. Thank you much for reading our blogs and inspiring us to work with the elderly in many ways. Until next time, we wish everyone a safe, mihygge journey! 

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