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Dementia: Wandering at Night

If you have a loved one with dementia, wandering at night may be one of the most worrisome symptoms to manage. When determining how to keep dementia patients from wandering, you must understand how dementia progresses.

Why do dementia patients wander at night?

It is common for people with dementia to become confused and disoriented in all stages of the disease, and in some cases that involve wandering. Dementia patients lose the ability to recognize familiar locations such as their own homes once they wander out the door.

Six in ten people living with dementia have wandered at least once; many do so repeatedly. This is not only a safety risk for the person who is wandering, but it also causes family members and caregivers enormous stress. When a person is confused, they may not remember their address or a relative’s name who could come to their rescue. In the latter stages of dementia, they may not even remember their own name.

Do all dementia patients wander?

Not all people with dementia wander. If a person is restless and can walk around in a safe, controlled environment wandering can be a way to relieve anxiety.

It’s when a person is frightened, over-stressed, or feeling abandoned that it causes a problem, especially at night.

Let’s look at some triggers for nighttime wandering and how to keep dementia patients from wandering by modifying schedules and the environment.

  • Looking for a bathroom. This is one of the main triggers for wandering at night. If the person wakes up because of the urge to urinate, he or she may open the wrong door and end up in the wrong room, in the garage, or outside.
  • Waking up and not knowing where they are. In this case, the person sees nothing that looks familiar and may walk outside trying to get “home.” Many times, home is the place where the individual grew up.
  • Poor sleep habits can be a trigger for nighttime wandering. If your loved one wakes up at odd times during the night, you should examine the daytime schedule. Napping and intermittent snoozing during the day can lead to restless or sleepless nights. Try to provide stimulating activities during the day to assure your loved one is tired and ready for sleep at night.
  • Hunger can also be a reason for waking up and wandering. Make sure a bedtime snack is part of the nightly routine.
  • Being too hot or too cold. Adjust the temperature to assure comfort and be sure to provide sleepwear and bedding that is season-appropriate.

Download Our Early Signs of Dementia Guide

What are wandering prevention devices? How to stop the elderly from leaving the house.

If these tips fail to stop the wandering, you need to be sure your loved one is safe despite the tendency to wander, especially at night.

You can start by putting a latch or deadbolt on all doors leading to the outside. Be sure to place them either above or below eye level. Never lock a person with dementia in the house by themselves. For safety reasons, another person should always be in the home in case of fire or any other emergency.

Wander prevention devices such as alarms, motion sensors, and pressure-sensitive mats can be installed in the home to alert others when the patient is attempting to exit the home.

You can also use a wearable GPS tracking device such as a bracelet, necklace, or anklet. These devices will help emergency personnel locate your loved one quickly if he does manage to wander away from the house.

Each person and situation are different. The goal is to keep your loved one safe, protected, and content in the least restrictive environment possible.

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