What To Do If Your Parent With Dementia Wanders Off

in Alzheimer's & Dementia

Worried your parent with dementia might wander off?
We talk about the warning signs and offer some tips for prevention.

Caring for a parent with dementia can be challenging. You want to continue supporting their independence while still keeping them out of harm’s way. Has wandering ever been an issue? Even the most experienced caregivers face the unnerving dilemma of how to stop someone living with dementia from wandering off. Be in the know and arm yourself with the right tools to help make wandering less of a concern.

“Anyone living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia is at risk for wandering. In fact, it’s estimated that 60 percent of those living with Alzheimer’s disease will wander at least once during the course of the disease,” says Monica Moreno, Senior Director, Care and Support at Alzheimer’s Association in the Greater Chicago area.

Since wandering is impulsive, it’s impossible to know when it will happen. Moreno suggests looking for the following signs:

  • Does your parent forget how to get to familiar places?
  • Does he/she talk about fulfilling former obligations such as going to work?
  • Does the person try or want to “go home” even when they are home?

͞”While the term ‘wandering’ may suggest aimless movement, individuals who wander have a destination and a purpose,” explains Moreno. “For example, a person who wanders may have a personal need such as going to the bathroom. But since people living with dementia can become disoriented even in a familiar place, this simple task can become a challenge.” This might prompt a person to wander around the house, looking for the bathroom and maybe even open the front door.

How to combat wandering

“Establishing a daily routine which provides structure can help prevent wandering. Activities and exercise which can reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness may also help,” Moreno says. Additionally, ensure all basic needs have been met (e.g., using the bathroom, eating a meal, etc.). Steer clear of places that are highly congested, which can trigger disorientation and confusion. Provide supervision at all times; don’t leave a person with dementia at home alone or in a place like a locked car during an errand.

If a bout of confusion does come on, Moreno says to reassure the person who is feeling lost by validating what they are feeling. “If they are afraid, try saying, ‘We’re safe, and I’ll  be with you.”

If it does happen

Take action. Don’t delay. “Begin by searching the immediate vicinity. Inside the home, search closets and other ‘less-traveled’ areas,” Moreno says. “Outside of the home, search the yard and nearby surroundings. Most wanderers are found within a half mile of their homes or starting location.” If, after 15 minutes, they still aren’t located, call 911 to file a missing person’s report. Ensure a swift response by alerting the police that the individual has Alzheimer’s disease and is a ͞”vulnerable adult.” The more eyes the greater chance of solidifying a happy ending and bringing them safely back home.

For more information on wandering and ways to address it, go to

Creating A Safety Plan

Having safety measures in place before a wandering incident occurs can make a world of difference. It’s often something that’s overlooked in the early stages of the disease, but preparing a plan at the start can help you act swiftly in a time of need.

  • Create a list of people to call for help, complete with phone numbers
  • Ask friends, neighbors and family to call if they ever see your parent walking alone
  • Consider keeping an updated close-up photo, along with a list of medications, to pass on to police if needed
  • Create a list of places your parent may wander to
  • Enroll the person living with dementia in an ID program
  • Connect with your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter to get additional information and support