Why Do Adults with Alzheimer’s Wander?

July 16, 2018

Why do seniors with Alzheimer’s wander

If you are the caregiver for a family member who has Alzheimer’s, this information will help you learn more about the potential causes of wandering.

In our effort to help raise awareness about Alzheimer’s, we devote time to community outreach in the local areas we serve. A question Legacy team members are frequently asked is why people with Alzheimer’s wander. It is a behavior that causes families considerable stress and worry.

When adults with Alzheimer’s wander, they can become lost and unable to find their way home. It may even put their lives in danger. Seniors with memory loss easily forget their address—or even their name—which makes it tough for people to help them return home.

Unfortunately, wandering is common in people with this disease. Research shows that as many as 6 in 10 people with Alzheimer’s will wander. Understanding what causes this behavior is critical to helping loved ones prevent it.

Common Reasons Adults with Alzheimer’s Wander

As is true of so many things related to Alzheimer’s disease, researchers aren’t sure what causes wandering. They do, however, believe they understand some of the potential causes:

  • Unmet needs: Of all the possibilities for wandering, most experts agree this is an important one. They believe seniors with Alzheimer’s wander in search of a solution to an unmet need. The older adult might be hungry, thirsty, in need of the bathroom, or experiencing undiagnosed pain.
  • Unfamiliar surroundings: For adults with Alzheimer’s, memory loss can make once familiar surroundings look unfamiliar. Everything and everyone seems foreign to them. The senior may wander in an attempt to find something that looks familiar. If your senior loved one has moved into your home, try to make sure some of their most familiar belongings—a throw, a chair, and family pictures—are strategically placed throughout the home.
  • Former Work Routines: A senior with Alzheimer’s may think they are still working and try to leave home to head off to work. Once they are outdoors, they might become disoriented and get lost. Keeping the senior busy at home with work such as dusting furniture, folding the laundry, or watering plants can help give them purpose and prevent wandering.
  • Unfamiliar faces: Because short-term memory is lost first, seniors with Alzheimer’s might remember friends and family as being younger and looking differently than they do today. They might leave home in search of people they know.
  • Chaotic or noisy environment: Alzheimer’s causes damage to the brain and makes it more difficult for people to process things around them. This is especially true in a busy environment. When the home is busy or noisy, the senior might become agitated and wander to get away from the chaos.

Pay Attention to Wandering Patterns

To better manage a senior’s tendency to wander, pay attention to patterns in their behavior.

  • Are there certain times of day when they attempt to wander more? If so, write down what is happening in their world at that time. You might start to notice triggers that make them more likely to try to leave.
  • If your loved one is still able to communicate verbally, ask them why they are trying to leave. Document and track their responses to look for patterns.
  • Do certain environments make them more prone to disorientation and wandering?

Secure Care for Adults with Alzheimer’s

If you are struggling to keep an adult with Alzheimer’s safe at home, it might be time to consider the support of a memory care community. At Legacy Senior Living, we offer dedicated memory care programming in Virginia, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee.

With benefits ranging from a secure environment to home-cooked meals, we extend an open invitation to you and your family to visit and learn more.