What Causes Wandering in a Loved One with Alzheimer’s?

Dear Kirsten:

My great aunt was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease over a year ago. Until the last few months she had been managing on her own with support from my husband and me. The past few months have been a whole different story. She has started wandering in the evenings. Luckily she has neighbors who look out for her and know the situation. They have been able to intercept her and bring her safely back home until we can get there. I know this is probably getting to be a burden for them and I’m worried she will wander when no one is around to notice. My question for you is what causes wandering and is there anything we can do to prevent it? 

Carole Anne in Fort Collins, Colorado


Dear Carole Anne:

Thank you for sharing your story. Wandering is one of the most common issues caregivers of a loved one with Alzheimer’s struggle to manage. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, three out of five people who live with the disease will wander at some point.

Experts believe that wandering is linked to impaired language skills and the damage Alzheimer’s causes to the brain. Your loved one’s surroundings may seem unfamiliar to them. That can cause them to try to find their way “home” where home to them is a place from their childhood. Wandering may also result when they are hungry or thirsty and in search of food or water or they have to use the restroom. Because they are unable to recognize their surroundings or communicate what their needs are, they go off searching for it on their own. The end result is a frightening behavior for family members and caregivers.

It is dangerous for someone who wanders to live alone. If there is no other solution, you could explore some of the following technologies to help:


  • Remote monitoring systems can be installed that send caregivers an alert anytime an exterior door or a window is opened. Some of these systems allow you to establish a “safe zone” space the loved one is allowed to be in outdoors before the alert is activated. Two highly rated systems are BeClose and GrandCare.
  • The Alzheimer’s Association has a variety of location programs that can help if a loved one wanders. They range from the Safe Return bracelet/necklace to GPS technologies called, Comfort Zone.


I hope this helps you, Carole Anne! If we can be of any assistance in supporting your family through this time, please don’t hesitate to call or email us.


From personal care needs and case management to guardianship concerns, Seniors in Transition provides consulting services to help families turn frustrating health care problems into quality, affordable solutions. Seniors in Transition is here to help families in the Fort Collins, CO and Loveland, CO areas. Visit our website at www.seniorsintrans.com or call 970.204.6977,  today.


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