Alzheimer’s Wandering Crisis

Elderly lady with cane walks alone through central park nycThe Alzheimer’s Association says, 60% of those who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease display wandering behavior. It can happen on foot and it can happen while driving.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, if wanderers are not found in the first 24 hours, as many as half will be seriously injured or will die. Due to America’s growing number of seniors, many of whom are afflicted with dementia and Alzheimer’s, wandering is becoming increasingly common. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get an accurate number of wandering trends because, as the New York Times explains, not all states track search-and-rescue incidents involving seniors.

But, some states are keeping records and their figures are astounding. For example, the Times articles notes that in Oregon, statewide searches for lost males with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia tripled between 2006-2010.  Good news – Alvita Care’s team of specially trained caregivers and Geriatric Care Managers can significantly help to mitigate this risk!

Why Do Those with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Wander?

For most people it is difficult to imagine what it’s like to have Alzheimer’s disease. For the most part, there are three main causes of elderly wandering problems in patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia:

1. Confusion: People with Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia can become confused and disoriented about their location and get lost at home or in their senior community. Sometimes, confusion is peaked in the evening. This is known as sundowner’s symptom.

2. Compulsion: Some of us have a friend or loved one with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or at least have seen characters with the illness portrayed in the media. Suffers of Alzheimer’s and disorders that are related can have a sudden urge to go “somewhere else.” Where this place is may not always be clear or even known to the person with Alzheimer’s, but it can be an incredibly strong and irresistible urge. Sometimes the use of redirection or healthy distractions can settle the mind of a senior who may be experiencing one of these compulsive urges.

3. Going Home: Despite having been residing in the same home for years, seniors with Alzheimer’s disease may not feel at home. Perhaps they are longing for their childhood home. In the above mentioned Times article, John Machett, husband of an Alzheimer’s patient, tells a typical story: “It started with five words. – ‘I want to go home’ even though this is her home.” People with this type of drive are often considered an “elopement risk.” They go to extremes to get to where they think they are supposed to be, even if it is an illusory place. People with this particular type of wandering are shown to be extremely stubborn and are determined to leave where it is they currently are and often need to have secured memory care.

If You Have a Wanderer in Your Family

Providing care for a loved one with a wandering problem is one of the most difficult challenges of giving care to a family member with Alzheimer’s. Here are some practical tips to help prevent dementia wandering before the warning signs start to occur:

  • Elderly persons with infrequent bouts of confusion might require a smaller amount of supervision. Caregivers should still be mindful about leaving these patients alone
  • If a senior is at risk of wandering, enroll him or her in your local “Silver Alert” directory or a similar registry if one is available
  • Seniors who experience extreme wandering are not able to safely be left alone and require constant supervision.  Alvita Care can help!
  • According to Dave Baldridge, Executive, Director of International Association for Indigenous Aging, consider house adaptations to keep a loved one from wandering away at night. Adaptions such as doors with slide bolts that are hard-to-reach or disguising doors with hanging towels.
  • Explore monitoring and tracking technologies (also discussed below), but don’t become over-reliant on them

New York Silver Alert

All 50 states use an “Amber Alert” system to find and identify abducted or lost children, and as of June, 2014, 41 states haveand alert that is part of a “Silver Alert Program.” States have developed systems to find seniors who are lost or have wandered off. New York has “Silver Alert” and we highly recommend registering your loved one.  Alvita Care’s Geriatric Care Manager can help you with the process to give you peace of mind!

Related Links:

We Have Special Skills for Helping Patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia:

Communicating with Alzheimer’s clients
Preventing wandering
Ensuring healthy and adequate meals
Participating in exercise
Engaging in activities
Monitoring for a safe home environment

Our caregivers are available to assist with personal care, household services, respite and/or companion care while bringing exceptional compassion, skills and knowledge about Alzheimer’s and dementia to our clients.


Picture of a nurse who provides memory care for elderly people in New York City
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