How to Protect Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s From Wandering This Winter

Wandering is a common occurrence for those with dementia, with six in ten patients doing so at least once, some repeatedly. An Alzheimer’s organization is providing some tips to avoid this during the cold winter months.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) recently shared some pointers for family members caring for a loved one with the disease. They noted there are things you can do around the house to minimize the risk of wandering and ways you can better understand your loved one’s motivation to do so.


Jennifer Reeder, AFA’s Director of Educational and Social Services, says, “Every family care partner wants to keep their loved one safe, which is why it’s important to take steps to reduce the risks associated with wandering. During the winter, it’s especially important for families living in areas affected by cold weather, snow, and ice. Being proactive by understanding and addressing the reasons someone may wander, while also having a plan in place in case of an emergency, are the best ways to protect the person’s safety and quality of life.”

Why might a loved one wander? AFA says understanding the answer to this question is an important first step in preventing it. It could be due to a genuine desire to be outside, an unmet need like being thirsty or needing to use the bathroom, or because they’re trying to escape from too many noises or people. When you figure out which of these is the case, you can focus on addressing it. That could include installing walking paths with visual cues and stimulating objects around the house, providing plenty of stimulating and fun activities, and making sure basic needs are met.

Caregivers should also make the home a wandering deterrent. Be mindful of things like keys, purses, or other items that may inspire a trip outside the home. You can also install items that would alert you when a person leaves, like electronic chimes or a smart doorbell with notifications about people entering or exiting the home.


AFA says it’s important to know your loved one’s tendencies, as well. If there are certain times of the day in which wandering may be a higher risk, find things for them to do during those times. Keep detailed notes of their wandering habits, looking for trends in the frequency, duration, or times when it happens.

Finally, AFA recommends making a safety plan. That should include knowing places where your loved one is apt to go, prepared medical information to give to first responders, and a current, quality picture. Be sure to maintain a list of people to contact in the event that your loved one has wandered off, as well. There are some cities with locator programs for those with dementia. You can see if there’s one where you live and proactively enroll them in that.

To see more of AFA’s recommendations, click here.

The Alzheimer’s Association, meanwhile, says there are certain signs your loved one may be at risk of wandering. Those include returning from a regular walk or drive later than usual, forgetting how to get to familiar places outside the home or within it, talking about needing to get to an old job, or becoming nervous in crowded places.

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