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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Huelat

What Should You Do If a Loved One with Dementia Wanders Off?

This sunny afternoon takes me back to the golden days I spent with Joe—traveling the world, sailing through calm waters, enjoying music festivals, wandering through open-air markets, and savoring meals at our favorite restaurants. Those perfect moments turned into terrifying ordeals when Joe began to wander off in the early stages of dementia. The fear and anxiety of potentially losing him haunted every outing, turning joy into worry. However, through understanding, patience, and the right strategies, I found ways to keep him safe and reclaim some of that lost peace. Now, I want to share what I've learned to help others navigate this challenging journey.

Dementia is a heartbreaking condition that affects millions of people globally, causing memory loss, confusion, cognitive decline, and decreased cognitive abilities. One of the most challenging and dangerous symptoms of dementia is wandering. Individuals with dementia can become disoriented and wander aimlessly without a clear destination, often increasing the risk of getting lost or injured. In this post, we’ll explore the causes and dangers associated with dementia wandering and discuss ways to protect and ensure the well-being of your loved ones. Read on to learn how to keep them safe and secure!


Wandering can be defined as aimless or disoriented movement across areas that can become harmful due to the cognitive impairment associated with dementia. Stress, anxiety, caregiver stress, boredom, or reactions to certain medications can all contribute to wandering. With so many people worldwide suffering from Alzheimer's disease and similar conditions, the risk of dementia wandering is higher than many believe.


Losing a loved one to dementia wandering can be emotionally exhausting and heartbreaking. Six out of ten dementia patients tend to wander, making the prospect seem overwhelming and frightening. However, there are ways to approach this issue head-on. Understanding why they wander is key. For instance, they might be trying to fulfill basic needs such as toileting, thirst, or exercise. Or they could have developed the habit of wandering on their own, as Joe often did when something interesting caught his eye, especially in crowded places like shopping areas. They might be adhering to routines they once had. Understanding these reasons can help significantly in prevention. When in shopping areas, I always strolled with Joe arm in arm, never letting him out of my sight. Remember, these individuals don’t wander aimlessly; recognizing this can aid in prevention.


Wandering often happens even when they are leaving their own home. Ensuring that the person with dementia feels safe, comfortable, and at ease is crucial. Changes to their environment can cause distress and trigger wandering. Adapting their surroundings can help keep them calm and reduce wandering risks. Door locks with key access, home security alarm systems, or door alarms that chime when doors are opened can be very helpful. I highly recommend providing supervision in new or changed environments—never leave them alone in unfamiliar or unknown surroundings!

Establishing a routine can reduce the risks of dementia wandering. Be alert for times when they are likely to wander; this tends to happen in the late afternoon or early evening. During these times, engage them with planned activities or exercises that might divert them from wandering.

Reassurance plays an essential part. Individuals living with dementia are frequently disoriented about where they are. Offering reassurance regarding safety and reminding them that they’re home can make a significant difference in comforting them. Be vigilant, especially if someone expresses a wish to "go home," and refrain from correcting their location. Instead, understand that they are seeking a place of comfort and security or looking for a special person.

Even with our best intentions and precautions, family members may still wander off without notice. Therefore, it’s essential to have an up-to-date photo of them for authorities to assist in search efforts. An ID bracelet or GPS tracking device can also be invaluable if they wander off without you knowing.


Dealing with dementia can be challenging, but don’t despair. With knowledge, perseverance, patience, and maybe some technology, it’s possible to create a safe environment for your loved one. Remember, you’re not alone in this struggle. Accepting help and networking with caregivers who understand can do wonders for both your resilience and your loved one’s well-being.

Be mindful that wandering is a serious possibility, even in the early stages of mild cognitive impairment and even if they have never wandered off before. Adaptability is crucial in dementia caregiving; educate yourself about dementia symptoms and be ready to adjust your strategy as the disease progresses. Every stage of dementia brings new challenges; anticipating these changes and being prepared will go a long way toward ensuring their safety and reducing your stress. Never lose sight of the fact that dementia is an ever-evolving landscape that changes constantly.

Dementia wandering is an increasingly pressing problem affecting many individuals and their loved ones. When loved ones go missing due to confusion caused by dementia, the consequences can be heartbreaking for all involved, making prevention key in keeping them safe. Caregivers must take measures to prevent wandering and ensure the well-being of those in their care.


There are various strategies caregivers can implement to mitigate the risk of wandering. These include creating a safe and secure environment, offering meaningful activities and routines, providing proper supervision, and using technology such as GPS tracking devices. By being proactive and vigilant, caregivers can prevent their loved ones from wandering off and becoming lost.


Education of family and friends about dementia wandering is also crucial. An active support network and honest dialogue about the challenges associated with caregiving are invaluable in managing your loved one’s condition more successfully.


At its core, the key to preventing dementia wandering lies in being proactive, vigilant, and prepared. Caregivers should take steps to create a secure environment, educate others about the risks associated with dementia wandering, implement technology solutions for support, and utilize resources and support systems for their loved ones with dementia.


Don’t lose a loved one to dementia wandering. Take all necessary precautions, seek support, and remain diligent in your caregiving role to keep your loved ones safe. With the right resources and strategies in place, you can help stop wandering by providing adequate care and protection.


dementia wandering
Don't Lose Your Loved One to Wandering

Join me, Barbara Huelat, caregiver, healthcare design expert, and author, on a journey to tame the chaos of dementia. Explore my latest publication and dementia resources at barbarahuelat.com and unlock a wealth of practical wisdom and empowerment.

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