According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six in ten people with dementia will wander. It is a common occurrence. However, the term wandering isn’t always an accurate description of what’s really going on. Most people with dementia — just like those without dementia — have a purpose in mind when they set out on a walk. It just may be that their purpose gets waylaid.
What is Wandering Really About?
What may appear to an outside observer as aimless wandering, it is often more purposeful than that. Usually, that person is looking for something. Marthe Lawrence, Executive Director of Villa at Terracina, a memory care community in Naples, Florida, explains what it’s like for someone with dementia.
“Imagine that you’re looking for something. But by the time you remember what it is, you’ve already forgotten that you’re looking. Or, you’ve already found it, but are still looking because you’ve forgotten that you already found it,” she says.
Often it’s the simple, day-to-day things. They may be chilly and looking for a favorite sweater. Or, they need to use the restroom and forgot where it’s located. In other cases, they may be looking for a person. That could be someone who is no longer there — like a deceased spouse — because they’re remembering something from the past. Or they may be looking to visit their neighbor.
When considered from that perspective, wandering is a lot less about “wandering” and more about the effects of dementia.
How Innovative Design Works
Marthe explains how Villa Terracina was specifically designed for the wandering tendencies of dementia residents and create an engaging experience.
”Villa is designed to let residents wander freely and safely and not be restricted. It’s shaped like a rotunda. There’s a garden in the center and panoramic windows,” Marthe says.
A resident can’t really get lost, because the design welcomes them to explore the community. Eventually, they’ll find something they recognize, even if they’ve forgotten their original goal.
There are also engaging distractions along the way. As Marthe explains, “There are benches everywhere; they can just sit and rest. There are beautiful murals and art. Or they see the doors to the garden. There’s so much to get your attention.”
It’s an ingenious way of turning wandering into a life-enriching experience.
What to Do at Home
Of course, most family homes weren’t designed with wandering in mind. So what are the things you can do for a loved one’s home who has dementia? Here are Marthe’s top recommendations:
- Remove any and all obstacles, making the home as open and easy to navigate as possible. Place couches and other furniture against walls, rather than in the center of rooms.
- Once positioned, try not to move furniture around too much. If something was in one place yesterday and another place today, that can be confusing and cause them to bump into or trip over it.
- Make sure there’s never water on the floor. If you mop up liquids, follow that with a dry mop or cloth to prevent falls.
Above all, make sure the person’s basic needs are taken care of, that they’re not too warm or cold, hungry, or need to use the bathroom. That can prevent a lot of unnecessary “wandering.” The Alzheimer’s Association provides more tips on how to prevent wandering in this article.