By: Patti Urban, GCM, CDP, CSA
Wandering is a common behavior observed in individuals with Alzheimer's disease, and it can be attributed to various factors associated with the condition. Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that primarily affects memory, cognition, and behavior. Here are some reasons why people with Alzheimer's may wander:
1. Memory Impairment. Individuals with Alzheimer's often experience significant memory loss. They may forget where they are, become disoriented, or not recognize familiar surroundings. Wandering may occur as a result of attempting to find familiar places or people.
2. Restlessness and Agitation. Alzheimer's can cause restlessness and agitation due to confusion, frustration, or anxiety. Wandering may serve as a way for individuals to cope with these feelings or to alleviate restlessness.
3. Routine and Past Habits. Wandering may be triggered by a person's past habits or routines. For example, someone who was accustomed to going for walks daily may continue this behavior even after the memory of why they started the walk has faded.
4. Communication Difficulties. Alzheimer's can impair communication skills, making it challenging for individuals to express their needs or feelings verbally. Wandering may be a form of non-verbal communication, indicating a desire for something or an attempt to fulfill an unmet need.
5. Search for a Familiar Environment. Individuals with Alzheimer's may wander in search of a place that feels familiar and comforting. They may be attempting to return to a location from their past, such as a former home or workplace.
6. Sundowning. Some individuals with Alzheimer's experience increased confusion, agitation, or wandering in the late afternoon or evening, a phenomenon known as sundowning. The reasons for this behavior during specific times of the day are not fully understood, but it may be linked to factors like fatigue or changes in light.
7. Physical Discomfort. Discomfort or pain, such as hunger, thirst, or the need to use the restroom, can trigger wandering as a way to address these physical needs.
It’s important for caregivers and family members to take steps to ensure the safety of individuals with Alzheimer's who may wander. This can involve creating a secure living environment, using monitoring devices, providing activities to reduce restlessness, and maintaining a consistent routine. Additionally, understanding the triggers for wandering can help in developing strategies to manage and minimize this behavior.
Patti Urban, GCM, CDP, CSA, is the CEO of Aging Care Planning Solutions, a geriatric care management practice that assists the elderly and their families with advance care planning as well as guidance for patients with life-limiting illnesses. She is also a Certified Dementia Practitioner, Certified End of Life Doula, a Certified Senior Advisor, former Executive Director of a memory-care assisted living community, and former owner of a home care agency. She can be reached at www.agingcarePS.com.
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