Senior dressed in parka and glasses looking worried outside

To some, wandering might sound like something pleasant you do while on vacation as you aimlessly roam up and down an unfamiliar city street. But to those people living with Dementia and their family members, wandering is a much more dangerous activity.

Wandering for those living with Dementia is a response to stress, anxiety, and confusion. People living with Dementia may wander when they get lost or can’t recognize familiar surroundings. They can wind up taking the wrong turn while coming home one day, or they can walk out the door wanting to “go home” even when they’re already there.

Here at the Integracare home care agency, we understand how stressful wandering can be. That’s why we’re sharing our guide on wandering detection and prevention below.

Learn why people wander, who’s at greater risk, and how to reduce the risk of your loved one dangerously wandering.

Why Do People Wander?

Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia cause disruptions to the way people think, making it easier to wander or get lost.

Why these disruptions happen depends on the type of Dementia you or your loved one has:

  • Vascular Dementia suppresses blood flow to the brain and causes oxygen deprivation, killing brain cells.
  • Lewy Body Dementia causes abnormal amounts of the protein alpha-Synuclein to build up in the brain, which interferes with concentration and movement.
  • Meanwhile, Alzheimer’s — the most common type of Dementia — causes brain cells to degenerate and die.

While their pathologies may differ, every kind of Dementia results in staggering damage to the brain and its ability to function. As a result, they share many of the same physical and emotional symptoms.

Here are some of the most common identifying signs of Dementia:

  • Difficulty with problem solving and reasoning
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Memory loss
  • Visual processing issues
  • Personality and mood changes
  • Social withdrawal
  • Trouble communicating and expressing feelings

With the above symptoms at play, it becomes incredibly easy for people living with Dementia to forget where they are, become restless or anxious, and want to go home even when they’re already there.

At first, these symptoms can lead to unintentional wandering if someone attempts to return from an outing and forget their way home.

However, someone with Dementia may also deliberately leave safe and familiar surroundings in the later stages if they don’t recognize where they are. People living with Dementia may try to escape these stressful and strange places, or they may be searching for someone, like an old friend or long-passed family member.

Senior smiling in a wheelchair holding hands with a PSW from Dementia Care Mississauga

Here at Integracare, we’re known in the GTA as offering the best Dementia Care Mississauga and Toronto has to offer. That’s because we tailor our care to suit the symptoms as they progress. We have a broad selection of health care professionals to ensure we pivot quickly and meet your loved one’s evolving needs at every stage of the disease.

Regardless of your needs, compassion is one of our Dementia Care fundamentals, as we believe aging with dignity is possible for everyone, including Seniors living with Dementia.

Who is at Risk of Wandering?

When it comes to Seniors living with Dementia, wandering is more likely as the disease progresses, so someone in the middle or late stages of Dementia is at a higher flight risk. However, anyone living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia may wander — even if your loved one is in the early stages of the disease or they have just received their diagnosis.

Although today’s focus is on Seniors with Alzheimer’s and Dementia, wandering isn’t exclusive to this demographic. People with other conditions and disabilities may also be at risk, including those with Autism, cognitive impairments, and Down syndrome.

6 Dementia Wandering Prevention Tips

Taking care of someone who poses a flight risk makes demands on your time, energy, and emotions that can seem overwhelming. If you’re constantly worrying about your loved one’s safety, you can take steps to reduce their risk of wandering.

1. Get the Right Help

Caring for a loved one with Dementia is one of life’s biggest challenges that can place a heavy burden on your shoulders. If a loved one has wandered off before, it can feel like the only safe option left is to move them into a long-term care facility.

While this may be the right choice for some families, it may interfere with your loved one’s wish to age in place. Uprooting Seniors to move them into unfamiliar nursing homes can be frightening, making an already stressful situation worse.

Dementia Care Toronto Personal Support Worker taking care of Senior

Luckily, our at-home care services in Toronto and Mississauga offer an alternative that honours your loved one’s wishes. Our health care professionals are here to give you space to breathe without sacrificing your loved one’s safety or quality of life.

Our team consists of a wide variety of health care professionals to assist you and your loved one in any capacity, at any stage of the disease.

In the early stage, you can hire a Personal Support Worker (PSW) to visit on an as-needed basis, showing up to keep your loved one company at home, assist them with chores, or accompany them on walks, medical appointments, and social engagements outside the home.

A PSW makes a great companion to people who can still get out and about but who may need some help in case they get turned around.

As the disease progresses, and your loved one needs constant supervision, we can provide a compassionate Live-In Caregiver to provide 24/7 assistance. The best Live-In Care Toronto has to offer ensures someone will be with your loved one at all times to provide medical support and companionship. This extra set of eyes makes it harder for Seniors to wander off.

2. Create a Support Network

Another way you can share the Caregiver burden is by talking to friends, family, and neighbours. Reach out to other loved ones to see if they’re willing to help out; they may be able to run errands for you while you’re caregiving.

They may even be willing to take over so that you can relax or look after your own health. You can share a calendar and set specific times when someone should check in, so your loved one never goes too long without contact.

Talking to your loved one’s neighbours is also a great way to reduce the risk of danger should your loved one wander. Let them know that your loved one is dealing with this diagnosis, so they can keep an eye out when your loved one is outside.

Depending on the progression of the disease, Seniors can speak with their neighbours directly about this plan. Having this conversation lets them know who they can call on for help if they ever get turned around. Meanwhile, a neighbour will know to help your loved one get their bearings should they look confused.

However, when disorientation and confusion are at their worst in the late stage of the disease, neighbours can stop your loved one from getting any farther than they’ve already wandered. They can sound the alarm before things get too scary.

3. Fill Out an Identification Kit

In the early stage of Dementia, Seniors may still lead a very independent and joyful life, carrying on many of the same activities and hobbies they had before their diagnosis.

If this includes walking or driving by themselves, we here at Integracare recommend following the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada’s identification tips.

  • Wear a generic identification bracelet
  • Carry a personal identification card in your wallet, pocket, or on a lanyard
  • Fill out the identification kit and make sure loved ones can easily access and share it with authorities in case you get lost

4. Household Updates to Deter Wandering

When Seniors enter the mid to late stage of Dementia, they may become lost or confused in their own home. Without constant supervision, they might walk out the door searching for another room, another home, or even loved ones.

Simple and inexpensive renovations can help prepare your home, making it harder for a loved one to leave unsupervised. The Alzheimer’s Society suggests making the following changes for maintaining safety at home for your loved one:

  • Deadbolts on any external door, making sure they’re out of the usual line of sight
  • Bells or other monitoring devices to alert you when a door opens
  • Safety gates at stairs in and outside the home
  • Hedges or a fence to enclose the outdoor property
  • Labels on each door with simple signs or symbols to explain the purpose of each room, so they don’t accidentally leave in search of a bathroom or kitchen
  • Put away items that would encourage someone to leave, including shoes, coats, keys, and wallets
  • Cover doorknobs with safety covers
  • Cover the entire door with curtains

While many of these household upgrades will help keep your loved one safely indoors, you should never lock someone living with Dementia inside alone.

If your loved one is living with middle or late stage Dementia, then we recommend researching 24/7 hourly or Live-In Care, as these professionals will stay in the home with your loved one to ensure they’re safe and well taken care of.

Senior man holding a wandering detection and prevention device outside

5. Take Advantage of Technology

You can take several steps to reduce the risk of wandering, but there’s a chance your loved one can slip out unnoticed despite your best efforts. In these emergency situations, it’s helpful to have tech on your side.

Before wearable tech and tracking technologies, families of missing loved ones had very few resources they could use to locate someone. Word-of-mouth sightings and surveillance footage were usually the only clues left behind. Now, you can follow their location by checking apps or devices.

The latest GPS, radio frequency, and Bluetooth technologies power tracking and health monitoring apps. These mobile apps or wearable devices allow you to keep digital tabs on your loved one with a tap of your screen or click of your mouse.

While there are ethical questions about privacy that you have to consider, tracking technology can give you peace of mind. Take a look at the options from the Aging and Innovation Research Program (AIRP) for more information about this tech.

6. Provide a Supportive Atmosphere

As mentioned above, many Seniors may wander because they’re confused about where they are. They may leave their house in search of home without realizing that’s their starting point, or they may believe they have to be somewhere else, like work or a family member’s home.

Finding out why they’re trying to leave helps you address these concerns and anxieties. Take the time to reassure them if they feel lost or abandoned.

Validating their feelings is only the first step to Dementia wandering prevention. Successfully distracting them from these worries or intentions is the other essential factor. Involve them in light chores and activities or give them a small task to do, like working on a puzzle or eating a favourite snack.

Keeping our Clients engaged throughout the day with structured, meaningful activities is one of our priorities here at Integracare. It improves their quality of life and helps prevent anxieties that may lead to wandering.

PSW from Dementia Care Mississauga standing with a Senior with a walker

Talk to Us About Wandering Detection and Prevention

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 60% of people living with the disease will wander at least once, with many more doing so repeatedly.

Knowing how likely wandering can happen is stressful and frightening. But with the right help, you can reduce the risk your loved one will get lost. Besides following the Dementia wandering prevention tips from above, getting in touch with us can help.

As the only home health care company to be called “Dementia Friendly” by the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, Integracare provides the best Dementia Care services in the GTA. Our health care teams receive innovative training, resources, and tools, so we can reduce the risk of wandering and improve our Seniors’ quality of life.

To learn more about the best Dementia Care Mississauga and Toronto has to offer, give us a call today. We can pair you with the right PSW or Live-In Caregiver for your loved one’s needs today.