Walking – Formally Wandering

Many people with dementia feel compelled to walk about and may leave their homes. Walking is not a problem in itself  it can help to relieve stress and boredom and can provide Exercise. However, it can be worrying for those around the person and may at times put the person in danger. It is important to find a solution that preserves the person’s Independence and dignity.

It can be very troubling when a person with dementia starts to walk about for what appears to be no reason. This type of behaviour is often referred to as ‘wandering’. However, this term is unhelpful because it suggests aimlessness, whereas the walking about often does have a purpose. The person might walk repeatedly around the house, or get up and leave the house at any time of day or night. People with dementia can often experience problems with orientation, which may cause difficulties in finding their way home. This can make their loved ones feel very anxious and concerned for the person’s safety.

Why Might People with Dementia Walk?

There could be a number of reasons why a person with dementia walks around. Once you identify what the person is trying to achieve, you can start to find ways to meet their needs. This should reduce your frustration and help the person to retain their independence. It may help to keep a journal for a couple of weeks to help identify any triggers.

Possible reasons include:

  • Continuing a habit
  • Relieving boredom
  • Using up energy
  • Relieving pain and discomfort
  • Responding to anxiety
  • Feeling lost
  • Memory loss
  • Searching for the past
  • Seeking fulfilment
  • Getting confused about the time

Things for carers to consider:

  • What triggers the walking behaviour?
  • Are there ways of dealing with this?
  • Can friends and family arrange to go out with the individual when you are unable to?
  • Are Assistive Technology products, such as a motion activated door messages appropriate?
  • What would happen if the person were able to walk about?
  • Locking someone in a house could be viewed as deprivation of liberty and is very dangerous
  • Any risk has to be measured against depriving the person with dementia of their independence
  • What extra help and support is available in the area?

Adapted from ‘When People with Dementia Walk – Guidance for Carers’. Alzheimer Scotland. 

Guidance on Locking Doors

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland protects and promotes the human rights of people with mental health issues, learning disabilities, dementia and related conditions. Their guidance on locking doors in the person’s own home is:

“People who provide care for an adult in their own home, either solely or as part of a package of care, may decide to lock internal or external doors. Where this is done, there should be an assessment carried out, considering the risk to safety of the individual leaving versus the risk of not being able to get out if necessary. In some cases, this may be authorised by guardianship powers. However, in others there may be no such powers. Where the individual finds this repeatedly distressing, a risk assessment should be undertaken to determine whether this is appropriate.”

If you are concerned about a person with dementia walking you should contact Customer Services and ask for Social Work on 0300 123 4510, see also Adults at Risks of Harm.

Also read about Staying Safe at Home and contact Carers Link which provides information, advice and support to carers in East Dunbartonshire.