Prevent Wandering in Elders with Dementia

According to Alzheimer’s Society Canada, 564,000 Canadians have dementia, and another 25,000 people are diagnosed annually. Of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body Dementia, or any another type of dementia, 6 people in every 10 will wander.

Wandering occurs when a person “travels aimlessly from place to place.” This can mean getting lost on a walk around the neighborhood, your elder trying to go to travel to work even though they have retired, or even getting confused or lost in a familiar place like their home while trying to find the bathroom.

Toronto alone receives 5 to 7 calls to 911 each day regarding elders with dementia wandering off or getting lost. When your loved one goes missing, it’s terrifying, and every minute they’re gone feels like an eternity. Thankfully most of the missing elders are found within a couple hours, but sadly not everyone is found safe and unharmed.

Prevent Wandering

While you may not be able to completely eliminate the chance that your loved one could get lost, there are steps you can take to prevent this type of scary episode.

  • Get your elder on a routine and try to make their routine a habit.
  • Many elders with dementia get restless at certain times of the day. Pinpoint when these times are for your elder and schedule activities and errands during this time. Aim to keep them busy and distracted.
  • Keep your elders needs met. If they are hungry, they may slip out of the house to head to the store instead of asking for a snack or heading to the kitchen.
  • Install inexpensive alert gadgets on doors and windows so that an alarm sounds if they are opened. Knowing immediately that your elder is going outside can literally be a lifesaver.
  • Avoid busy or crowded places. Losing a senior citizen in the mall is just as easy as losing a 5 year old. The difference is that other shoppers usually pay attention to a small child wandering alone in a store, but don’t think twice about seeing an older adult heading for the exit.
  • Paint your doorknobs and locks the same colour as your door. Also try to install locks either higher or lower than you normally would.
  • Never leave car keys out where your elder can take them. While you know they aren’t safe to drive, they may feel differently. A moment of temptation can easily lead to a lost senior.

Have a Plan, Just in Case

Again, 6 out of 10 people with dementia do end up wandering at some point. Just in case your elder decides to join in and become part of that statistic, you should have a plan of action.

  • Create an emergency call tree. You call one person to help, and that person has two people that they should call, and so on. Everyone should have the numbers programmed into their phone and know who they are to call.
  • Alert the neighbors your loved one is missing, and ask them to call if they see him/her.
  • Keep a recent photo of your elder on your phone, because it’s much easier to show others what your senior looks like than it is to try to describe them, especially when you’re worried and stressed.
  • Is your loved one right or left handed? According to Alzheimer’s Association, “Wandering generally follows the direction of the dominant hand.”
  • Have a list of places your elder could go to. Your loved one may go to a former home, a past job, their favourite restaurant, or a place of worship.
  • After 15 minutes of searching, call 911. The longer your loved one is missing, the higher the chances of them getting hurt. Tell the 911 operator that your senior has dementia and is a “vulnerable adult.”
  • Once you have your plan, share it with family members and other caregivers.


Are you a member of the sandwich generation? If so, you may also have to worry about your kiddo wandering off on top of losing grandpa in the mall. Be sure to check out our post What To Do Before Your Child Gets Lost for some helpful tips that may apply in both situations.

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