Wandering: Causes, Risks, and PreventionSkip to content

Understanding the Causes and Implementing Prevention Measures

Published: Dec 29, 2022. Last Updated: Jan 6, 2023.

Wandering refers to the act of aimlessly moving about without a specific destination or purpose. According to research, 6 out of 10[1] people living with dementia will wander at least once. What's even bothering is that, some do so multiple times.

This behavior can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening for seniors with cognitive impairments, such as dementia or autism. It can lead to a variety of risks, including physical injury, exposure to the elements, and even death. It can also cause distress for caregivers who are concerned about their loved ones' safety.

With that in mind, it is crucial to understand why senior with dementia wander and here are the potential causes why:

Causes of Wandering

Common causes of wandering include:

Cognitive Impairment

One of the primary causes of wandering is cognitive impairment, such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease. These conditions can affect memory, judgment, and ability to recognize surroundings, leading to confusion and disorientation. Dementia and other cognitive impairments can also cause changes in behavior, such as increased agitation or restlessness.

Developmental Disorders

Developmental disorders, particularly autism, are a significant risk factor for wandering. Autism can impede understanding of social queues and boundaries, making it more likely to wander away from safe environments. Additionally, people with autism often fixate on water or shiny objects, which can present additional dangers if they wander without supervision.

Mental Health Conditions

Mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, can also contribute to wandering behavior. Individuals experiencing these conditions may feel restless, agitated, or overwhelmed, which can lead to the urge to escape from their current situation by wandering. In some cases, they may wander in an attempt to find relief from anxiety or depression symptoms.

For instance, someone with anxiety may wander in search of a quiet place to calm their racing thoughts, while someone with depression may wander in an attempt to find something that brings them enjoyment or pleasure.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors such as noise, unfamiliar surroundings, or a chaotic atmosphere can also trigger wandering behavior. These stimuli can be particularly problematic for elderly who are already prone to wandering due to cognitive impairment or developmental disorders. Additionally, external cues such as an open door may inadvertently encourage seniors to wander away from their caregivers if they lack the understanding of the potential dangers associated with wandering away.

It is important to be aware of the various causes of wandering so that you can take proactive steps to reduce its risk. Caregivers, family members, and healthcare professionals should work together to create a safe environment for those prone to wander and develop strategies that help prevent wandering episodes.

Prevention of Wandering

To reduce the risk of wandering, here are what to do:

Ensure Basic Needs Are Met

A proper diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep can help minimize feelings of boredom or restlessness that often lead to wandering. Engaged in stimulating activities, such as reading, watching television, going for walks, listening to music and playing games to help keep mind occupied.

Try cutting back on liquids a few hours before bed to refrain from getting up to use the restroom during the night. This may reduce the risk of wandering away from home in search of a restroom.

Implement a Routine

Developing and sticking to a routine can be an effective way to reduce the risk of wandering. Establishing regular times for meals, activities and bedtime helps provide structure and predictability that may minimize instances of wandering.

Provide a Safe and Secure Environment

Creating a safe and secure environment can also help to prevent wandering This can involve installing safety gates, alarms, and other barriers to prevent access to potentially dangerous areas. Ensure all exits to the house are locked and that windows and doors are secure at night. Install alarms on doors so you can hear when they open or if someone attempts to leave the home..

Be vigilant in regularly checking the environment for any potential hazards, such as open doors or unlocked gates.

Utilize GPS Tracking Technology

For elders at a high risk of wandering, GPS tracking devices can provide an added layer of security and peace of mind. These devices allow real-time tracking of your loved ones whereabouts and enable caregivers to receive alerts if they have gone outside a pre-set boundary. An on-the-go medical alert device, for example, can provide both GPS tracking and emergency response capabilities.

Educate and Reassure

In addition to the above strategies, it is also important to provide elders with information and reassurance about their environment. Reminding them of the location of exits and other safe places can help reduce feelings of anxiety that can lead to wandering. In some cases, developing a password or code word for family members and caregivers may be helpful in alerting them if they become disoriented.

Additionally, it is important to be educated on how to prevent and respond to wandering incidents. This can include identifying potential triggers and implementing strategies to prevent them, as well as knowing how to safely and effectively intervene if an individual begins to wander.

Potential Risks and Consequences of Wandering

Elders who wander away from home or family are at risk of several potential dangers. Below are some of the potential risks and consequences that may arise from wandering:

  1. Injury or Illness – Wandering away can lead to a senior becoming injured, lost, sick, in danger of dehydration or hypothermia, or exposed to hazardous materials.

  2. Accidental Death – When left unattended, older adults with disabilities may find themselves in dangerous situations that can result in accidental death. For example, some who wander often find themselves in unfamiliar areas once they gain consciousness. This can put them at risk of drowning, being hit by a vehicle, or coming in contact with dangerous wildlife.

  3. Exploitation or Abuse – Seniors who wander are at an increased risk of becoming victims of exploitation or abuse if they wander away from a safe environment. Exploitation may include forced labor, homelessness, or being taken advantage of financially due to lack of awareness.

  4. Diminished Quality of Life – Wandering can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, anxiety and stress for the older adult and their family. This can lead to a decrease in quality of life for everyone involved, as well as an increase in care costs due to the extra supervision required to ensure safety.

  5. Emotional Distress – You can't rest easy knowing your loved one is wandering, have wandered or might wander. It can also lead to feelings of guilt, frustration, and helplessness that is rooting from wanting to prevent or stop the wandering events.

  6. Financial Consequences – Caregivers may need to increase their level of supervision or hire additional help to monitor their patient and prevent wandering incidents. In cases where there is injured or medical treatment is required as a result of wandering, there may be additional financial consequences for the family.


  1. https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/stages-behaviors/wandering^

Related Articles

About the Author

Ericka Nicolas

Writer & Researcher

Elder Guide LLC

Ericka Nicolas began her career in the banking industry where she learned the importance of being detail-oriented and well-organized, both of which she applies to her current work as a writer and proofreader. With her vast experience in writing, Ericka is able to produce well-researched and engaging content that appeals to Elderguide's target audience. She was able to provide readers with valuable insights on a variety of topics and ensures that all the information she provides is accurate and up-to-date. She takes the time to carefully study each topic given to her, which allows her to produce truly informative articles. Ericka's passion for writing and her dedication to producing quality content gave way to her goal of helping our readers navigate the complex world of senior living and make informed decisions about their future. Aside from her work at Elderguide, Ericka enjoys spending time with her newly-married husband and their dog, Yari. She loves cooking, traveling, and exploring new restaurants in her spare time.