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Dementia Wandering Solutions for Home Safety

Are you prepared for the unexpected challenges of dementia wandering?

When caring for a loved one with dementia, are you fully equipped to handle their tendency to wander? This episode provides valuable insights and practical strategies to ensure safety and peace of mind.

Understanding Wandering in Dementia Care

Wandering is a common but often misunderstood behavior among individuals with dementia. It's crucial to recognize that wandering is not merely aimless movement; rather, it's a purposeful response triggered by the individual's needs or desires, which may not always be apparent to caregivers.

This behavior can range from harmless pacing within a safe environment to critical wandering or elopement, posing significant risks.

Innovative Solutions to Manage Wandering

One groundbreaking approach discussed is the use of visual deterrents like a shower curtain printed with a bookshelf design to obscure exits. This simple yet effective method can prevent the individual from recognizing doors as passageways, thereby reducing wandering incidents.

Additionally, securing the environment with appropriate locks and using tracking devices can enhance safety.

Environmental Adjustments for Safety

The episode emphasizes the importance of making the home or care environment as safe as possible. Removing tripping hazards, ensuring good lighting, and using contrasting colors in the bathroom are all vital steps.

These adjustments help in minimizing risks associated with wandering, such as falls or unintended exits from the home.

Emphasizing Caregiver Support and Self-Care

A significant portion of the discussion is dedicated to the well-being of caregivers. Establishing periods of rest and seeking support through community resources or initiatives like the "Ask the Dementor" meetups can greatly alleviate caregiver stress.

Remember, caring for someone with dementia is a marathon, not a sprint, and maintaining your own health is as crucial as managing the care of your loved one.


Dementia wandering presents a complex challenge, but with the right strategies and support, it can be managed effectively.

This episode not only sheds light on the phenomenon but also equips caregivers with practical tools and heartfelt advice to enhance their caregiving journey.

Join us for more insights and to become part of a community that understands and supports your efforts in dementia caregiving.

Listen to the Podcast

Listen to the episode on the player above, click here to download the episode and take it with you or listen anywhere you normally listen to podcasts.

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Introduction to Dementia Wandering

[0:00] Have you ever wondered whether wandering can be dangerous for a person living with dementia? And if you have a loved one who is wandering, have you ever wondered what you can do about helping mitigate that particular response that they're showing? Well, today's episode, 133, we talk about one simple solution for dementia wandering inside the house that I have used successfully with another family. So check out this episode.

[0:47] Have you recently found out someone you love has dementia? Struggling to wrap your head around how to be a Christian caregiver? Searching for answers by joining countless Facebook groups but find them toxic? Learning how to cope with dementia feels difficult, but learning a Christian caregiving worldview can be easy. Hey, brother and sister in Christ, I'm Lizette, occupational therapist, pastor's wife, turned dementia coach, and a daughter of dementia. In this podcast, you will learn the truth that the way to make dementia care easy is your faith. Knowing that a loving God has decreed this hard providence in your life makes all the difference. Here you will gain skills. You will be challenged by what God says in his word about caregiving, and you will learn exactly what dementia is and is not. Find clarity and certainty from God's word so you have perseverance for this journey. Use science-backed solutions and biblical principles to redeem your time. Praying this blesses you as we dive into dementia from a Christian perspective. Let's glorify God despite dementia.

Understanding Dementia Caregiving from a Christian Perspective

[2:14] What's up, Christian caregiver? It's Lizette, your dementia coach, and today you are listening to Dementia Caregiving for Families. It is the podcast where I show Bible-believing Christians how to make Alzheimer's and dementia care easy by giving you hope and help so you can create moments of joy and make memories together.

[2:42] Today, we have a very special episode that I called One Simple Solution for Dementia Wandering Inside the House. Now, I don't know how many of you guys have actually ever struggled with a family member who is wandering. So let's talk about wandering and why it is important to know. And a couple of things that we don't often think about specifically from a home environment, and that is the danger of what is called critical wandering or elopement, which is a soft way of saying a person has walked away from a safe place. So think about a kid who is in a store that maybe gets lost and cannot find their parent, right? Or apparently I did this when I was a young child. I hid in a clothing store inside the racks, big round racks, and you could climb under the clothes. And I was sitting playing on the inside there. But of course, you know, the parental units were freaked out and looking for me. Well, you know, that is the same concept.

[4:08] Wandering can be extremely, extremely dangerous.

[4:12] Non-critical wandering can be extremely annoying or frustrating or difficult for you to navigate if this happens all the time. So I thought today we would do a quick little episode on what is dementia wandering. So what is wandering?

[4:36] The best or the most simple explanation is it is a response i don't want to use the word behavior because i'm really working on trying to teach myself to not call it a behavior but it is a response that a person living with dementia may show at various stages in their journey and this This looks like they're walking aimlessly back and forth around the house, all these types of things. Wandering can be aimless. I personally do not think that wandering is really aimless. I believe that the person has a purpose that they are trying to achieve, and we just don't know what it is that they are trying to get to. Sometimes wandering will come out as a walking to, you know, from one side of the house to the other side of the house or opening cabinets or looking like a person's trying to find something.

[5:53] Oftentimes, like I said, you know, a person who is exhibiting this response is doing it because they have something in their mind that they need to do, but we just don't necessarily know what that is. So how do we manage it? How do we navigate it? Is it dangerous? Why does it happen?

[6:19] Is it annoying? Why is it annoying? And what's the impact or what can be the

Exploring the Impact and Management of Dementia Wandering

[6:25] impact on both the person who is wandering as well as the person who is the caregiver? So we talked a little bit about what is wandering. That means just moving around the house. It could be in an assisted living facility or a memory care facility, just walking back and forth. it is just think about a person who is wandering. And is it dangerous? Well, in a short answer, it depends, right? If the home environment or if the place where the person is living is safe.

[7:08] For the person who is wandering, in other words, they cannot wander away from home or they don't wander away from home, then it shouldn't be dangerous. It can have some impact on people and families in the sense of sometimes a person living with dementia isn't eating all that much, And if they are expending so many calories moving around the house, they start to lose weight. So, related to that, it can be a sign that things are starting to change because if a person's not eating and they're moving so much and they're losing weight, then over time, that results in the person starting to lose some of their abilities. But wandering can be extremely dangerous, specifically with a person living with dementia.

[8:13] I will tell you a quick little story of when I went on the dementia-supported cruise in January, February this year, that I was a staff member helping these family caregivers so they could have some time off. Off, we actually had a situation where one of the gentlemen wandered out of the hotel room.

[8:40] In Fort Lauderdale, and that could be an extremely unsafe situation because he wandered away from a safe environment. Now, to be fair, he had never wandered in his life before from home, so there was no way to anticipate that it was going to happen. But I remember also many, Many, many years ago, I was working in rural South Carolina with a family who, where we live in South Carolina, there are a lot of people who will have a house and then, you know, a stone's throw away is another family member's home. And they've always kind of lived next door to one another. And there was this husband and wife combination. I will never forget them. They were the sweetest, sweetest family.

[9:31] They got married when she was 14 years old. Yes, I said 14. And there was a very specific reason why they got married while she was so super young. So I want you to picture in your mind, they're in their late 70s. They'd been married over 60 years. And, um.

[9:56] She now has dementia. And the story came out that one of the reasons they got married when she was that young was because when she was that young in the 40s, the 40s and 50s, her mother got really, really sick and her father was not in the picture.

[10:18] And her mother needed to have abdominal surgery, if I recall correctly. And if her mother was concerned that if something happened to her and she passed away, that my client would not have a person who could take care of her. So she actually facilitated her and her now husband getting married 60 years ago because she wanted to ensure that her daughter had somebody to provide for her should she have something happen. But that's an aside. It was a fun story. But this particular person lived next door to their sister or brother-in-law. So it was her husband's brother that lived next door, and they'd lived next door for 50 years. So she had frequently walked out the door and walked across the field and went and visited her husband's family. Well, as she was progressing with her dementia, this had happened once or twice. And just because she automatically went over to their house on the occasions that it had happened does not mean that she would continue to do that. So some statistics that people need to understand is that about 80% of people living Living with dementia will walk away from a safe environment at least once in their lifetime.

[11:48] In progression of this condition. And if it happens once, it can happen again. We have all heard these stories of, you know, the amber alert are for children, but the silver alert is for an older adult. Typically, when that happens, it's a sign that somebody has wandered away from their home. So yes, it can be extremely dangerous. And why does it happen? It happens because we, the people around them, are not in tune yet to the fact that they are going to do this behavior. We may feel resentful that we don't want to be responsible for this adult who is making these decisions, perhaps. We are maybe still at the phase in our caregiving journey where we are.

[12:51] Wanting to not be assuming that role of the family caregiver, or we're just not accepting that things are starting to change. And so, yes, it can happen, and it can happen at any time. It can be very annoying. I will just be honest. If you are trying to do something and the person keeps trying to walk out the door or they're wandering back and forth in the house, it can feel as a caregiver like you cannot get your own things done. And it can significantly impact both your peace of mind and your ability to relax and just not be on duty all the time. It can definitely impact.

Lizette a dementia caregiving

Assessing the Safety of the Home Environment

[13:44] Impact you as a caregiver. But like I said, it can also impact the person living with dementia, specifically if they start to expend so many calories that it results in weight loss. So what's one of the first things that we need to do when we're looking at a

Strategies to Manage Wandering Behavior at Home

[14:02] wandering behavior, specifically inside the house? And the strategies that we're going to look at today are specifically for the home environment. So the first place you start is by assessing the home. You have to make sure that the house is safe. So what kind of things are we going to look at in the home? If a person is wandering throughout the house, if they have a specific track that they're always taking. We want to minimize the risk that they can have in a given part of the house. So I will use my parents, neither of them wander, but they have a beautiful home.

[14:50] Thousands, I kid you not, throw rugs. So the very first thing that you want to consider doing in any home of any older adult is picking up throw rugs. They are tripping hazards and it can happen like that. So we want to minimize the common hazards that there are in a house. Another Another common hazard that we can consider and look at is the seating surfaces that the person might go and sit on. For example, oftentimes if a person's wandering into a bathroom, we can look and make sure that there is some contrasting color in the bathroom so that they can see the toilet a little bit easier or the edges of the surfaces so that they're not quite as at risk of falling or being afraid of sitting down.

[15:51] Another big environmental concern or something that is very important to keep in mind is that lighting is extremely important when we have a person in living with dementia because one of the things that they lose over time is the ability to judge depth. And transitions between floors can result in it looking like a hole to the person. So as much that we can change in the environment to make it safer just inside the environment. But now we have to consider what kind of other concerns are there and what, and obviously one is walking out of the house. So they make a lot of different decisions.

[16:48] Solutions for protecting a person in a house with certain types of locks that are high up on the door so that you can make it so that the person living with dementia doesn't open the door and walk out the house. So I want you to really consider that the environment that the person is living in needs to be modified related to wandering. So we want to modify the environment on the inside, but then we need to look at strategies to keep the person from walking away from the home. A few strategies that are common out in society is they make a lot of different types of tracking devices now, air tags, they have trackers for shoes.

[17:45] You can put a tracker on a belt, you just need to be creative related to how you are going to track the person should they walk away from the home. One of the best recommendations that I have for you is to, when you have a person living with dementia, living with you, is to notify the police nearby because if the person does wander away from home, then the police already know that there is a person living there who is at risk. I would definitely consider doing that sooner rather than later because we never wanted to get to that critical response, which can result in the death of the person if they wander away and they are not found.

[18:41] Having said that, sometimes we have to be creative with our ability to track a person because not everybody wears a watch or a belt or shoes. And this was a learning opportunity for me as we were on the cruise because the gentleman who wandered away from that hotel that very first day, he actually every single time didn't have on shoes. He didn't have on a belt. It's really hard. I was racking my brain to think how could we track him. So a strategy that I implemented for myself was I started taking a photo every morning of what he was wearing so that we would be able to locate him later on if we needed to. But I never wanted to get to that specific point. If you truly truly have somebody living with you who is at risk of wandering away from the home You probably need to consider letting your neighbors know So that they can also be on the lookout if they happen to see Joey walking down the road without his shoes on to know that they need to, Help and not just assume that everything is fine so.

[20:09] One of my current clients has a wife who wanders inside the house significantly. And so one of the strategies that he did, which I think is super smart, is he actually put deadbolts on the inside of the house because he couldn't always keep his eyes on her all the time. But with the deadbolt, you know, there really wasn't a way, it was a deadbolt with a key, that she could open the door and walk out of the house. So we want to, we really do want to make sure that we are ensuring that the person is safe.

[20:49] Do you feel alone and isolated and need a little bit more help and support in this journey? Sign up for our next Ask the Dementor monthly meetup where we will come together. Less than 10 people are allowed to sign up at a time so we can have fellowship where we can answer questions, where you can get some Christian guidance and just an awareness that you are not alone on this journey. I really want you to be able to connect with me. I want to be able to answer your specific questions. So if you're struggling, if you're tired, if you're overwhelmed, if you're stressed, If you just need a little bit of help, sign up for the next Ask the Dementor monthly meetup. The link is in the show notes below.

Implementing Simple Solutions for Dementia Wandering

[21:49] So that's the environment. And now I'm going to show you another simple solution that we came up with to help this gentleman with his wife who is wandering on the inside of the house. And something I did not know until recently when I went to a continuing education where they were highlighting some of the differences between certain types of dementia, including frontotemporal dementia, is that a person living with frontotemporal dementia may sometimes show a lot of changes that are consistent with looking like it's an obsessive compulsive urge to do something. And when I reflect back on this client.

[22:39] His wife, she reminds me a little bit that it might be because of that. So that was just a learning opportunity for me that I thought I would share with you. But what we ended up doing in their house, and some of the changes are never going to go all the way away, but if the response that the person is showing is at a 10 out of a 10 scale and is driving you as a family caregiver.

[23:14] Out of your mind, then we have to find a way of bringing that down and making it more manageable. Even if we can only bring it down to a six or a seven, if the magnitude is constantly there at a attend, you won't have the bandwidth over time to continue to deal with it. So if things are bothering you related to a response that the person has, those are the things that we really need to work on mitigating so that we can decrease that stress and decrease the burden and make it easier for you. So she was wandering inside the house. She was constantly walking from door to a door, trying to open the door. And I honestly don't think she was trying to leave the house. I just think that she sees a door and tries to open it and go out. It seems like she was very active when she was younger. And so-

[24:17] One of my suggestions to him, and it was not a perfect solution, it did reduce it a lot, but it didn't take it all the way away, was to buy a shower curtain with a bookshelf on.

[24:32] Because a bookshelf is something that you would find in a normal home. So in facilities, in like nursing homes and assisted living facilities, when you have people who are wandering around, some of the strategies that are used to encourage them to not go to a door is to obscure the door so that it doesn't look like a door anymore. So in facilities, sometimes times you'll see murals on the door that don't look like an exit to the person who is living with dementia. So the idea that I had was to see if we could obscure the door so that the door didn't look like a door with a handle and come up with something that we could use or try that it wasn't super expensive.

[25:27] And so I suggested he buy a shower curtain with a bookshelf on. So he did buy the shower curtain, and he did put the shower curtain over one of the two doors. And per his last report, and things do change, but per the last report, her wandering towards that door has significantly decreased. She'll walk to the bookshelf. She sees a bookshelf and she'll stand there and then she'll turn away and walk away again. She's not looking for a door handle and pulling it to try to open the door. So that was one solution that we came up with to disrupt that response that she had. One of the solutions that he came up with himself was to put a.

[26:19] Chair or something in front of the door. So we just want to be creative. We want to look at the environment. We want to look at the situation and see if we can put a pattern interrupt or a disruptor there so that we can change the response that that person has at that particular time. And I do think that the strategy helped. It's not a perfect solution. It's not going to work everywhere, But in their particular house, it definitely did work. So if you do have a loved one who wanders to a specific door all the time, it certainly is worth a try.

Importance of Rest and Respite for Caregivers

[27:00] A shower curtain is not that expensive, and maybe it can give you a little bit of peace of mind. And then the last point in today's podcast is that I really, really, really need you to hear that you, as a family caregiver, need to build in rest and respite for yourself early and often. Mark 6, verse 31 said, and he said to them, come away by yourself to a secluded place and rest.

[27:42] So one thing I know about family caregivers of people living with dementia is that we do not build in rest early and often.

[27:56] And even our Lord Jesus Christ needed to go and seclude himself at times and rest. We don't ask for respite. We don't build it in. And what I mean by build it in is actually putting it on the calendar, scheduling somebody to be with that person, and taking some time away. Especially if you are a caregiver daughter who has a husband, you need to take time away from your parents who you are caring for and be with your husband. Because your husband is your primary responsibility. That is the relationship that you are now in, a God-given relationship. And it is good and right and noble and wonderful that you are willing and able to help your parents, but you do not do that at the neglect of your own responsibilities, and your own role and your own health, dear. Caregiver. You do need to keep your own health in mind. There is life after dementia, which means you have a lot of control over what you want your life to look like after dementia.

[29:15] You have two choices, and I'll just lay it on the table, right? We'll just be very blunt. You have two choices in your caregiving journey. You can come through your caregiving journey healthier and happier and more resilient and have better relationships by doing certain things like putting in healthy boundaries, finding time to rest, asking for help, taking respite, not isolating yourself, not really being proactive about taking care of yourself self, because there is life after dementia. You do bear responsibility for your own decisions should you decide not to keep your health in mind after your dementia caregiving journey. I have been looking at statistics, and it's a hard statistic to find, but there is a range. They say between 18 to 41% of family caregivers of somebody living with dementia die before the person that they're taking care of.

[30:28] So we'll just use an average of 30. 30% of caregivers pass away before the person that they're taking care of, which opens up a huge big can of worms who's going to take care of the person, right? But we, as the caregiver, do bear responsibility on our own decisions because we can choose how we choose to be a caregiver. The other option is choose to do nothing, continue to be stressed, continue to be overwhelmed, and you might ultimately become one of those 30% of family caregivers who, due to the stress of caregiving, because they don't have the help, because they don't ask for help, because they're not building in respite care, that actually pass away before the person that you're taking care of. I did not intend for this episode to go down that rabbit hole, but it is one of the reasons that I do these episodes because we have to, have to take care of ourselves as family caregivers. And so I really encourage you to be able to look at your own health and well-being in this dementia caregiving process.

[31:51] There is a great episode about a month ago by Michelle Gordon. It's episode 114, where we actually talk about burnout.

[32:05] Burnout is a real thing in caregiving. And so if you haven't listened to that episode yet, please go back and listen to it. It's episode 114, and it is an an episode on burnout.

Recap and Solutions for Dementia Wandering

[32:21] So today's episode, episode 133, we talked about one simple solution for dementia wandering inside the house. And we actually had several solutions for wandering inside the house. I hope you have received a better understanding about what is wandering, whether it's dangerous.

[32:43] What kind of things you can do to look at the home environment and realizing and recognizing that there are commercially available products to help track a person living with dementia, as well as keep the home environment safe for them. And then a solution as a distractor off of a door so that a person doesn't keep trying to walk through the door in the very simple use of a shower curtain with a bookshelf on. And then my little tangent about rest and respite care for a family caregiver and that you, sweet friend, bear a big responsibility in what your own life, health, and well-being will look like after your dementia caregiving journey. So if you are struggling and you're really, really, really struggling and overwhelmed, I invite you. We have our monthly meet up where I do a group question and answer segment that becomes a part of the podcast. It is called Ask the Dementor, which is a play on words for Ask the Dementia Coach.

[34:07] So the next availability for that is tomorrow, June the 20th. So if you haven't signed up for one of these sessions, it's great fun. You can sign up at, the link is in the show notes below, but you can go to the website and just look for Ask the Dementor monthly meetup. It's a good opportunity to.

[34:35] Ask a question and get face-to-face help and guidance. Like I said, go ahead and sign up for one of those slots. I only let 10 people sign up because I want to be able to keep the group small. And that way I have enough time to actually spend with the people who show up live. So it's a great opportunity for you to get a taste of what it feels like to work with a dementia coach.

Join the Dementia Caregiving Community

[35:05] If you need another place to hang out with me, please go check out my free Facebook group. The link is also in the show notes. I just want to tell everybody I am getting ready to change the name of the podcast and start working on that. So kind of hang in there. By the end of this month, the podcast is going to have a different name to be more reflective of what it is that I want to achieve and who it is that I'd like to serve. So just kind of keep that in the back of your minds. But the link is in the show notes today. And as I try to remember to end my episodes every single week, may the Lord bless you and keep you. And I will see you hopefully tomorrow in the monthly meetup.

[35:56] Thanks for joining me today, Success Seeker. I pour my heart and soul into this program to serve you. You can serve me by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts and join our free Facebook group, Dementia Caregiving for Families. It's a positive and proactive space to navigate dementia caregiving together. Get practical tools and find support, but without the verbal vomit. Be a part of our community where we seek to find peace of mind and ease despite the dementia diagnosis. So join today and see you next time as our flight takes off.

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About the author

“Think Different” Dementia’s owner, Lizette Cloete, OTR/L graduated as an Occupational Therapist from the University of Pretoria in South Africa in 1992. Lizette has almost 30 years of experience as an Occupational Therapist in a variety of settings, the latest being in the home health environment. She enjoys teaching on the topic of dementia, most recently presenting at a national conference on the topic “Dementia Made Simple”.

Disclaimer: These blogs, videos and any work done by Lizette Cloete OT, as a Member of Think Different Dementia, LLC, is given only as educational content and consulting work. This does not create an Occupational Therapist-Patient Relationship. The educational content and consulting work performed should not be considered medical treatment as an Occupational Therapist. The consulting work does not take the place of medical work normally performed by a licensed Occupational Therapist. Please consult a licensed Occupational Therapist for medical advice.

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