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How to Manage and Prevent Wandering in Dementia Patients

Learning how to keep dementia patients from wandering at night and mitigating risks when it can’t be prevented can be difficult. Use these nine tips to help.

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9 Ways to Keep Dementia Patients From Wandering at Night and Tips for Minimizing Risks When They Do

Do you have a loved one suffering from dementia? Are you worried about their safety? It can be heartbreaking and frightening to watch a loved one suffer from dementia.  

Patients dealing with dementia may be dealing with memories of familiar people and places being erased. This may lead to patients wandering away. 

Caregivers and family members can be burdened by the unpredictable nature of this dangerous dementia-related behavior.

By the end of this article, you will be well informed about keeping someone with dementia from wandering, and understand:

  • Why dementia patients walk around at night
  • How to prevent dementia patients from wandering
  • And more

Why Do Dementia Patients Walk Around at Night?

Two of the most common reasons why dementia patients wander at night include: 

  1. Sundowners Syndrome is a state of confusion occurring in the late afternoon and lasting into the night.
  2. Loss of natural circadian rhythm reduces the body’s oxygen levels and causes numerous sleep interruptions through the night.

How Common Is It for Dementia Patients to Wander at Night?

People living with dementia often wander or get lost or confused about their location, which can occur at any stage of the disease.

Six out of ten people with dementia wander at least once; many do it repeatedly.

Tips on Dementia Wandering Prevention and Management

4 Suggestions on How to Keep Dementia Patients From Wandering at Night

It is impossible to watch another person every second of every day. Even the most dedicated caregiver can’t prevent wandering every time.

You can help to keep your loved one safe, and ease your anxiety, by following some of these tips.

#1: Discover Patterns or Triggers and Work to Solve Them

People with dementia often have patterns in their behavior.Certain things might trigger particular behaviors and activities. Look out for triggers, in particular:

  • Times of day
  • Activities
  • People; or
  • Settings

If your loved one wanders at the same time every day, a planned activity at that time or just before might distract them from wandering. 

Find meaningful activities to keep them engaged if wandering is caused by boredom or a physical need.

Some people may be returning to old routines, such as going to the office or picking up a child from school in the afternoon.

If this occurs, go along with your loved one’s story, but redirect them. Say, for example, that it’s a federal holiday and the office is closed today. Then, get your older adult’s mind off their old routine by distracting them with a favorite activity. 

Other seniors wander because they’re searching for someone or something. Make sure they know they’re safe by providing creative reassurance.

#2: Make Sure the Living Environment Is Safe and Clear

To keep you or your loved one safe, it’s essential to make sure the living environment is free of hazards. 

Let’s look at a few tips on what you can do to do this.

  • Reduce the amount of furniture in your home – it can be challenging to move around freely when there is too much furniture.
  • Get rid of clutter, such as piles of magazines and newspapers.
  • Sturdy handrails should be provided on stairs.
  • Put carpet on the stairs, or mark the edges with brightly colored tape so the person can easily see them.
  • When the person has balance problems, place a gate across the stairs.
  • Small throw rugs should be removed.
  • Ensure all electrical cords are out of the way or tacked to baseboards.
  • Spills should be cleaned up immediately.

#3: Practice Good Sleep Habits

Wandering may be the result of sleeplessness.

To help someone with dementia create good sleep habits, it’s important to create a sleeping environment that is inviting and promotes a quality night’s sleep. 

Helping a loved one who is suffering from dementia practice good sleep habits may involve the following: 

  • Keep regular mealtimes, bedtimes, and waking times
  • Exposure to sunlight in the morning is ideal
  • Exercise regularly every day, but no later than four hours before bedtime
  • Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol should be avoided
  • Identify and treat any pain
  • If the person is taking cholinesterase inhibitors (i.e., tacrine, donepezil, rivastigmine, or galantamine), avoid giving the medicine before bedtime.
  • Maintain a comfortable temperature in the bedroom
  • Install nightlights and security objects
  • Use the bed only for sleep

#4: Talk With a Doctor About Medications That May Help

Even though it may not seem appealing, sometimes medication is the best option for people living with dementia who don’t live in a senior living facility.

Some medications can worsen cognitive function, so it’s best to consult your doctor before trying anything.

Is your loved one taking medications for dementia? Are you looking for ways to keep your loved one busy? 

Activities are happening all day in Senior Services of America communities, so a person with dementia is actively engaged versus being at home, where there might not be as much activity.

Being in a community has many benefits, including staff who are always available if someone wanders around at night.

Are you interested in learning more? Find your nearest community today.

5 Suggestions for Mitigating Risks When You Can’t Prevent a Dementia Patient From Wandering at Night

Unfortunately, there may come a time when you’ve done all you can to prevent your loved one from wandering, but it still doesn’t stop it from happening, especially at night. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t steps you can take to keep your loved one with dementia safer.

Here are our top tips for mitigating risks when caring for a dementia patient who wanders.  

#1: Make Sure the Home Is as Secure as Possible

It is important to prepare the home when you have a loved one with dementia. You can use alarms, locks, and motion-sensing devices to alert you if your elderly relative moves unsupervised. 

Among these helpful home preparations are:

  • Placing pressure-sensitive alarm mats at doors and bedsides
  • Installing warning bells on doors
  • Cover doorknobs, outlets, and cabinets that contain hazardous materials with child-proof covers
  • Using a fence or hedge to block the view of the yard
  • Keeping sliding bolts above eye level, if your loved one tends to unlock doors

#2: Make Activities a Priority

Being meaningfully engaged during the day can help the mind stay calm at night.

As much as possible, dementia patients should remain physically and mentally active. Choose activities that stimulate your loved one’s mind and senses.

Some of these activities include: 

  • Take a walk
  • Plant flowers
  • Water plants
  • Play checkers
  • Knit or crochet
  • Bake cookies
  • Set a table

#3: Obscure or Camouflage Exits

Be sure to (safely) obscure doorways. Utilize neutral door coverings and floor mats at doorways to reduce exit-seeking behaviors. You could also hang a curtain above the doorway or even paint or wallpaper the door so it will match the surrounding walls. 

Often, people with dementia won’t be able to find the door if you cover it. 

Another effective technique is to place a large black doormat in front of the door. Elderly with dementia often perceive dark areas of the floor as holes and are less likely to walk over them. This will prevent them from reaching the door.

#4: Hide Items That May Prompt Leaving the Premises

A senior could drive off before you return from a quick bathroom break if they have access to their car keys. 

Ensure all car keys are well hidden and consider installing a steering wheel lock to prevent this.

Another precaution is to hide their wallet or purse. Some people won’t leave the house without them.

You might also want to hide: 

  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Belts; or
  • Suspenders

These are things that you can’t leave the house without.

#5: Be Prepared

When taking care of a loved one who has dementia and wanders, it’s essential to always be prepared. 

Consider taking the following precautions: 

  • Have/take current photos of your loved one
  • Make sure neighbors are aware of your loved one’s condition, and
  • Use medical IDs and GPS tracking devices

Benefits of Memory Care Communities for Dementia Patients 

Make sure to stop in and check on older adults in your life as often as possible — this is especially important when the weather is extremely hot or cold. 

If you live too far away to spend time with your elderly family and friends, contact a neighbor or family friend who can check in, especially after a snowstorm or power outage.

Senior Services of America: A Safe Option for Senior Independent and Assisted Living

If you’ve reached the stage where your loved one with dementia is constantly wandering and exit-seeking and you’re struggling to manage the behavior, it is time to consider moving to a memory care community. A memory care facility is dedicated to caring for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Their staff are specially-trained to manage behaviors such as wandering and exit-seeking. Here are the other benefits to moving a loved one with dementia to a memory care community.

Engaging Activities Are Offered on a Regular Schedule

Activities at dementia care communities are offered regularly. 

These activities are geared towards residents with all levels of dementia — a significant advantage of memory care in a community over at-home care. 

A structured program often requires specially trained staff intended to reduce cognitive decline, promote positive memories, and comfort residents. 

Examples of engaging activities available include: 

  • Reminiscence therapy
  • Sensory activities
  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Touch therapy
  • Pet therapy

Staff Are Always Available

Memory care facilities provide care around the clock.

The assurance that your loved one will be cared for 24 hours a day can be highly reassuring when they wander. 

Memory care facilities hire and train caregivers in best practices for caring for those with dementia. 

These professionals understand the complexities of the disease and how to monitor subtle changes in health and adjust the patient’s care for optimal results. 

In addition to having trained staff and nurses on-site, memory care communities also have professional connections to additional healthcare services and specialists.

Some communities provide auxiliary services, such as podiatry or dental care. 

Memory care communities generally offer transportation to medical appointments, communicate with residents’ doctors, and ensure easy access to advanced medical care if necessary.

Advanced Safety Protocols

To keep residents safe, memory care facilities often offer enhanced security features such as:

  • Motion-activated lights
  • Cameras
  • Alarms
  • Delayed-egress exit doors
  • Digital locks on exterior doors
  • 24-hour security staff
  • Secured outdoor spaces

Willingness to Accommodate Wandering

Along with these safety protocols, memory care facilities are often set up like a house so staff can cater to accommodating wandering rather than trying to prevent it.

For example, when a loved one is wandering at 2:00 a.m. because they think it’s lunchtime, the staff can pretend to prepare a lunch for them.

Senior Services of America: Communities That Support the Needs of Dementia Patients

Whether you or a loved one is looking for a senior living community with dementia care, Senior Services of America is here to support everyone in the family. 

Our senior living facilities promote independence, even in memory care settings. Visit your nearest community to find out how we can help you with this critical part of your life.