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Helping a Loved One With Dementia Who Wanders

Written by Angelike Gaunt
 about the author
3 minute readLast updated March 30, 2023

If your loved one struggles with memory loss, chances are you’ve seen them wander. Wandering can happen as a result of confusion or disorientation — often because a person is looking for someone or something. To keep your loved one with dementia as safe as possible, learn how you can help prevent this behavior and put an emergency plan in place in case they wander off and get lost.

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How to help a loved one with dementia who wanders

People with dementia wander as confusion and disorientation lead them to search for a family member, former home, or place of comfort as symptoms progress. It’s a major cause of concern for any caregiver as they try to keep their senior loved one safe and well cared for.
Caregiving expert Amy Goyer says, “One of the most common safety concerns for people with dementia is that they will leave the house and get lost.” Statistics show that 60% of people with dementia will wander, and caregivers should know that any person with memory problems who is mobile is at risk for wandering.
“Most people that wander are not doing so aimlessly,” Goyer says. She adds, “In their minds, there’s a reason. They are looking for something or someone, they need to be somewhere, they want to do something or they are scared.”

Let our care assessment guide you

Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

Recognize when a senior is at risk

If you’re worried about a senior loved one who may wander, know the indicators that they’re at risk:
  • Becomes anxious or nervous in a crowd
  • Becomes disoriented finding familiar places like the bedroom or dining room
  • Forgets directions to familiar places
  • Insistent on fulfilling former obligations and responsibilities (i.e. going to work)
  • Often want to “go home,” even if he or she is already home
  • Restless behavior with repetitive movements
  • Returns home from regularly scheduled appointments or walks later than normal
  • Wants to find past family and friends

Ways to prevent wandering in your loved one

Wandering can happen in any stage of dementia and it can happen to the most attentive caregivers.
These practical tips can help lower the chance of a person with dementia wandering:
  • Avoid crowds that may cause disorientation.
  • Hide car keys.
  • Invest in MedicAlert or another GPS tracking device.
  • Use alarms to signal an open door or window, or bed alarms for at night.
  • Validate feelings and reassure your loved one of their safety.

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What to do if a senior loved one wanders

Because wandering can happen to anyone in any stage of dementia, it’s important to have a plan in case you can’t locate your loved one.
These steps can help you locate a loved one safely and quickly:
  • Ask neighbors and friends to call if they ever see your loved one alone.
  • Give your loved one an identification bracelet with your contact information.
  • Keep emergency contacts easily accessible.
  • Keep a recent photo of your loved one and medical information to give to first responders.
  • Know where your loved one could wander (i.e. former homes, jobs, restaurants).
  • Know which side is dominant in your loved one as wandering generally follows the direction of the dominant hand.
  • Search no more than 15 minutes before calling 911 if your loved one wanders.


Meet the Author
Angelike Gaunt

Angelike Gaunt is a content strategist at OurParents. She’s developed health content for consumers and medical professionals at major health care organizations, including Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the University of Kansas Health System. She’s passionate about developing accessible content to simplify complex health topics.

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