What Is Wandering?

Wandering is one of the symptoms of dementia. It can occur anytime but is more often seen over time. Wandering is when a person gets up from a place they’re supposed to stay and starts walking around, often looking confused or lost. This usually happens when a person’s routine, like bedtime, changes.

Wandering can be frightening to both a person and the people around them. While experts don’t agree on how many people wander due to dementia, estimates suggest that it occurs in up to one-third of people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. 

Who Is at Risk for Wandering?

Wandering is more common in older adults but can also happen in younger people. People of any age who have dementia and who have other behavioral symptoms similar to wandering can be at risk for it. Wandering may also be a new behavior in people without dementia.


What Are the Signals of Wandering?

There are several warning signs.

1.) Strangely disoriented or asking for directions to get home.

2.) Wandering off, even briefly.

3.) Going the wrong way in a familiar setting. For example, someone wandering may go out of their house and then go back in again, confusing the place where they came from with the one where they are going. This can also happen with familiar areas such as shopping malls or parks when signs that tell you to turn or which direction to go are missing or unclear.

4.) Making unexpected stops to look at things that have nothing to do with where they are going.

5.) When agitated, someone may get extremely angry, shout or throw objects around without realizing it. These behaviors can cause others in the household to worry that their loved one may be lost or in danger.

6.) Confusedly looking out the window, out of doors, or around the house.

Other signs that may seem like wandering can include depression, anxiety, and personality changes. Moving away from an activity you used to enjoy might also be a sign of depression. If a person is anxious about leaving their home because it’s gotten harder for them to get around, you may see them staying in one room or hiding more often. Personality changes may make people more demanding or meaner than they used to be.


Causes of Wandering

A person’s wanderings happen for several reasons.

Cause #1:

Because their thinking is confused, they may have trouble recognizing signs that tell them where to go or remember a place they think they should be going. They may not know how to find their way back home. People who have dementia often get very upset when they’re lost, which can make it harder for them to find the right way. Wandering usually increases as dementia gets worse and over time it can happen even more often.

Cause #2:

They may get anxious about being in unfamiliar places and want to go home, even if they don’t know which one is their home. Sometimes they don’t recognize certain landmarks, leaving them unable to find their way back home.

Cause #3:

Wandering can be caused by the disease itself. Dementia can cause people to forget things more easily, which can make them feel lost and confused when they have to find their way home from places where they’re used to being sure of their bearings.

Cause #4:

Depression and anxiety can cause people to stay closer to home or not go out as much. These symptoms make it more likely that a person will wander when they don’t have any means of getting around outside the house.

Cause #5:

Sometimes, wandering is a symptom of another medical problem, like urinary tract infections, sleep problems, or hearing loss. It can also be caused by dementia medications or other drugs that people take for pain or appetite control.

Cause #6:

Some people wander as a way of coping with the stress that happens in their lives or because they’re bored or lonely. If a person wanders when upset, their emotions may be just as intense at other times too.

A senior man holds hands with a caregiver

How to Help

If you have an older adult in dementia care assisted living who is showing any of these signs, it’s a good idea to let their doctor know. If a person wanders often, the doctor might change their medication or tell you to provide more supervision.

Do Your Part

Do not assume that wandering can’t happen to you or that it won’t happen in your family. One good way to get help is by taking part in our online community of people concerned about wandering. If you know someone who is wandering, help them to keep track of where they are. It’s important for everyone to know where the person who needs help is, in case they wander away from the people who love them.

Take Note of Changes

Some of the things that can help include finding a special place in the home where they should always go when they wander and making sure there are no signs that might guide them elsewhere. A lost GPS watch can be helpful too. Sometimes, their wandering may be a way to express that they don’t like the place where they are staying. If there have been a lot of changes in their surroundings recently or you are planning to rearrange the house, it can make sense to wait to move furnishings or alter the landscape until they have gotten used to everything.

Keep a Visual Diary

Other ways you can help include keeping a visual diary of places that a person frequents. You can put photos on the fridge or bulletin board, so they remember what each place is for. Dementia care assisted living communities can help if a person has wandering tendencies. This kind of community is designed to help people with these issues live safely.



Wandering can sometimes be a sign of dementia. If someone wanders into their own home, it’s important to take steps to keep them safe. If you or a loved one is considering dementia care assisted living, find a reputable long-term care facility for your loved one today and help them get the care they need to feel better and regain control of their lives.