How To Encourage Safe Wandering with Alzheimer's and Dementia

There may be no job more demanding than caring for someone. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia, and caregiving demands typically grow over time as the disease progresses.

The symptoms and behaviors of Alzheimer’s and dementia also change as the disease progresses.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six in ten people with Alzheimer’s disease will wander.

Wandering is best described as a tendency to roam or walk around without a clear destination or purpose. For those with Alzheimer’s disease, the destination or purpose of the walk is often forgotten, causing them to become confused or lost.

As a caregiver, you are right to be concerned about the safety of someone who wanders. There may be no harm if wandering occurs in a safe and contained environment. But for someone with dementia who gets lost outside, the risk of injury is high.

What Causes Wandering?

There are several reasons why a person who has dementia might wander and understanding these will help you put some practical interventions in place:

  • Stress, fear, and anxiety
  • Searching for important people, such as old friends or family members
  • Searching for the bathroom
  • Searching for food
  • Visual-spatial challenges
  • Memory loss
  • Boredom, especially at night (called sundowning)
  • Poor sleep and restlessness
  • Pain

People with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia may have pain and can’t express it verbally, so they wander to find relief.  Overstimulating environments can also cause anxiety and the urge to “get away.”

Experts at Serenades Memory Care recommend caregivers assess the home environment for safety issues and modify as needed to permit wandering, but in a safe and controlled environment.

Home Adaptations to Support Safe Wandering

When a loved one has dementia, you are always looking for ways to keep them safe. You can do several things in your home to improve safety for a loved one. Here are some simple tips for modifying the home for a loved one who wanders:

  • Keep spaces clutter-free to minimize fall risk
  • Remove rugs to minimize risk of falls
  • Eliminate the need to use stairs
  • Lock the stovetop to prevent your loved one from trying to cook
  • Keep windows and doors locked
  • Install alarms on all exterior doors
  • Camouflage doors – hang curtains over exterior doors to make them less visible
  • Use a pressure-sensitive alarm mat to notify you when your loved one gets up at night
  • Install gates to dissuade entry to unsafe areas of the house, including stairs
  • Fence in the backyard to allow your loved one access without risk
  • Install safety locks on kitchen cabinets
  • Lock up all medications and cleaning products

Keep in mind, it may be impossible to identify all the hazards in the home that put your loved one at risk. Memory care communities such as Serenades Memory Care in Florida have safety features built into the design to ensure the safety and well-being of those with memory loss around-the-clock. Known as purpose-built memory care, architectural features are purposefully used to promote familiarity, independence, and safety, while minimizing the feeling of confinement that breeds anxiety and agitation.

Behavioral Strategies for Wandering Caused by Dementia

Knowing that part of the cause of wandering is boredom, anxiety, and fear, learning behavioral strategies to keep your loved one occupied can prevent unsafe wandering. The added benefit is reducing unwanted agitation and frustration.

There are some tried and true ways to help a loved one with dementia, but trial and error might be necessary to find out the secret sauce that works for them.

The certified dementia care experts at Serenades Memory Care incorporate these strategies into daily caregiving:

  • Redirect and distract with an activity or exercise
  • Find out if your loved one is in pain, too hot or cold, thirsty, or hungry
  • Minimize noise and overstimulation
  • Turn on the musicmusic has been found to have a calming effect on people with dementia.
  • Listen to your loved one’s concerns with compassion, and to the extent you can, try and alleviate their fears and anxieties.
  • Provide lots of healthy snacks – wandering uses excess energy reserves and frequent snacks can help offset unwanted weight loss caused by dementia.

While it may be impossible to prevent wandering completely, you will want to permit safe wandering while reducing the risk of falls.

Most importantly, measures should be taken to prevent your loved one with Alzheimer’s from venturing outdoors, particularly in Florida, where summer heat can be life threatening. If you’re caring for a Florida resident with Alzheimer’s, here are three tips to help you keep your loved one safe during the hot summer months.

Technology for People with Dementia

Safety products that permit safe wandering have come a long way over the years. Today, there are a range of devices to manage and monitor your loved one’s activities and give yourself a break from constant supervision.

Keep in mind, technology cannot replace caregiving. These devices should support and augment your care rather than replace it.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • An Emergency Response System (ERS) detects falls and have built-in GPS tracking.
  • In-home video monitors with continuous feeds can be monitored via smartphones.
  • Smart sensors collect data, detect unusual movement, and monitor for smoke and carbon dioxide.
  • Safety Alarms alert you to movement and can be installed on beds, chairs, wheelchairs, doors, and windows.
  • The Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return Program provides 24-hour support and emergency response for a medical crisis or when a loved one becomes lost due to wandering.

Constant supervision and interaction with your loved one can be exhausting, expensive, and time-consuming. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses and symptoms and behaviors become more than you can manage at home, a memory care community can help.

Purpose-built memory care communities are specifically designed for those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and provide around-the-clock care to assure the safety and well-being of those with memory challenges and wandering symptoms.

Schedule a visit to Serenades Memory Care to learn more about
our person-centered approach to Alzheimer’s and dementia care.


Research reveals how significant the environment is to the well-being of those with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. This key insight is the driving force behind purpose-built design solutions. Find out how the design of memory care communities impacts quality of life.

Purpose Built Design eBook TN