Understanding Wandering Behavior

Old Man

Effectively erasing the mind of the afflicted person, Alzheimer’s disease, and the various other forms of dementia can be devastating. Sometimes people with these conditions cope by engaging in wandering behavior. There are three main types of wandering behavior in which people with Alzheimer’s disease engage.

Escape Wandering

Escape wandering is commonly seen in Alzheimer’s patients who exhibit a lot of stress or anxiety and can result in elopement from the nursing home facility. Sometimes escape wanderers are simply overstimulated by the environment and need to get away from it all to collect their thoughts or to feel more composed. Usually, this type of escape wandering is safe; the resident usually retreats to his or her private room, relaxes, and then feels fine.

However, there are cases of those with dementia, or a mental infirmary, who engage in escape wandering because they feel like they are being followed, chased or stalked, and need to get away from that feeling in order to calm down. In those cases, it is best to try and derail their paranoia by distracting the person until he or she forgets about the anxiety or stress inducer. Also, treatment with medication can help cut down on the level of anxiety that this type of wanderer feels. For residents who are at risk of paranoia-fueled escapee behavior, a rigorous social schedule is recommended, designed to keep the resident engaged, in contact with others in the facility, and feeling positive.

Nostalgia or Reliving the Past Wandering

Some Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are wrapped up in the past inside their minds, and seek to relive the past. This type of wandering compels the afflicted person to perform routines that he or she may have done for many years earlier in life. For instance, the wanderer might try and leave the nursing home facility each day at 8 o’clock in the morning because he or she is trying to go to work, despite not having a job. Wanderers like this honestly believe in what they are doing. In this example, the wanderer truly thinks that he or she has a job and that he or she needs to get to work on time or will be fired. There is no convincing them otherwise.

To help deal with this type of behavior, most nursing home staff and family members engage in the telling of “white lies.” Trying to convince the nostalgic wanderer that he or she isn’t really in the past and that things have changed can really upset the wanderer, which can lead to anger, frustration, and possibly withdrawal from others and social interaction. Instead, telling the wanderer that he or she has the day off, or that there is no work today usually will put a stop to that particular bout of wandering.

Searching for Something or Someone

This is the most easily identifiable type of wandering as it is characterized by searching behavior. Wanderers who do this type of wandering usually do it each day at about the same time. They often ask others if they have seen an object, person or deceased pet, as they conduct their search. This type of wandering can either be safe, if the wanderer follows a set course each day, or very unsafe if the wanderer is driven to unsafe areas while conducting his or her search.

It is important to remember when dealing with wandering behavior that people who have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are often unable to understand that they have a degenerative memory condition.

If your loved one has wandered away from his or her nursing home or long-term care facility, it is quite possible that nursing home staff are not paying enough attention to the residents or are neglecting them. Please reach out to the Rooth Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Law Firm online or by calling (800) 350-0646 if you are concerned about the care your loved one is receiving at his or her nursing home.

Photo Credit: Daniele Zedda via Compfight cc

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