Understanding Wandering

Wandering refers to the need to keep on the move, often see in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Wandering is a common behaviour for a person with Alzheimer’s disease.

It is a direct result of physical changes in the brain.

A person with Alzheimer’s disease may wander for a variety of reasons. They may:

  • be too hot or cold
  • be hungry or in pain
  • believe that they need to go to work, catch a bus, or be home to feed their children

As a caregiver, pinpointing the reason behind the wandering can be a challenging task, especially when verbal communication has become difficult. Looking at non-verbal clues may help you establish the reason for wandering:

  • Is there a pattern to the behaviour
  • Does the wandering appear aimless or confused (non-focused)
    • The person may be bored
    • It could be the person’s response to stress, anxiety or physical discomfort
  • Is there a particular purpose to the wandering (goal oriented)
    • The person is trying to accomplish something (such as doing the groceries)
    • The person may be searching for something
    • The person may be trying to return to familiar surroundings from their past
    • The person may have a physical need such as hunger or a need to use the washroom

Being able to determine the pattern of the wandering can help you identify why a person wanders. If you can do this then you can begin to put strategies in place to manage the behaviour.

Night-time wandering

The night hours are often a time for wandering. Broken sleep patterns may cause restlessness and disorientation in the middle of the night. Confusion about time may also cause the person to unaware of the difference between day and night.


Last Updated: 11/08/2017