Wandering and Hoarding - Dementia Caregiver Web Support
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Wandering and Hoarding

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Wandering Facts elderly couple walking

Wandering refers to a common behavior in which the person has the impulse to walk about aimlessly, sometimes leaving the home.  The Alzheimer’s Association reports that approximately 60% of people with dementia will wander away from their caregiver at some point during their disease.  This can be one of the most frightening experiences for a caregiver.

Wandering often occurs suddenly and with little warning, so it is important to prepare for this in advance. Wandering may be a warning sign of your loved one’s needs for things such as social contact or exercise. Before reading the content on this page, it may be beneficial to review the following video(s) from the Office of Rural Health (ORH).

Wandering
Length: 05:42 (Link opens new window)
Harold often says he wants to go home. One day he leaves the house and wanders for several hours before the police find him and bring him home.


Warning Signs of Wandering

Although wandering can occur suddenly, it can be helpful to pay attention to some warning signs.  A number of different factors can influence or cause wandering including:  

  • The person walks about their environment and cannot find his or her way back (home, residential facility, stores)
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Caregiver briefly leaves individual alone and the person with dementia gets up and leaves the home
  • The environment is threatening or over stimulating
  • Excess energy or boredom
  • The person used to always go on walks before the onset of dementia
  • Pain

Someone with dementia may also be at risk for wandering if he or she is looking for something or someone, or believes he or she needs to go to a particular place (such as work or home).  If wandering occurs, try to identify what was happening prior to the wandering, as well as any other changes in circumstances, routines, health, or medications that might be affecting your loved one.

A person who wanders may try to use other forms of transportation.  Keep car keys in a secure place where someone who should not drive cannot access them. You may also want to park the car out of view.  Wandering may be more likely in public or unfamiliar places that are confusing to someone with dementia.  Your loved one will need closer supervision in these situations.

Do not interpret wandering as a rejection of you or your care.  Wandering is caused by progressing dementia and is not a deliberate action toward you.

Tips for Managing Wandering Behavior

Locking Doors/ Using Signs

Locking doors or placing signs on doors that should not be opened can reduce wandering.  Sometimes lock styles need to be changed or locks need to be placed in different locations on the door.  Bells or alarms can also be installed to notify you if your loved one is wandering.  Baby monitors and intercoms can help you to supervise your loved one if you are not in the same room.

Ensure Adequate Exercise elderly man swimming in pool

Exercise can be an important tool in reducing wandering.  Including regular exercise in your daily plan will make your loved one less likely to wander.  This exercise can also promote sleep and reduce nighttime wakening.

Encourage Relaxing Activities

Mental health symptoms, especially anxiety, can make your loved one more likely to wander.  Identify relaxing activities for your loved one that reduce his or her anxiety levels.

Staying Organized

Reducing clutter in your home can help prevent wandering aimed at “looking for something.”  Keep a few simple things that your loved one commonly needs, such as a telephone or television remote, where your loved one can easily find them. You may need to keep these items handy but secured so that your loved one doesn’t misplaced them.

Medical ID Bracelet

You may consider purchasing an ID bracelet that contains a reliable contact number to aid in safe return.  There are commercial products that provide 24 hour emergency response and notification services for people who wander.

Other Tips

  • Avoid crowded environments
  • Use respite care instead of leaving your loved one home alone
  • Notify neighbors to bring your loved one home if they see him or her alone
  • Use night lights and gates at stairwells to protect night wanderers


Hoarding woman with hand on head

Many individuals with dementia begin hoarding as their disease progresses. Hoarding refers to collecting and putting things away in a protected manner.  Dealing with this behavior can be very frustrating and challenging. Learn how to effectively manage hoarding as a caregiver.

Causes of Hoarding Behavior

  • Decreased brain function: they may not understand that taking things that belong to others is wrong
  • Inability to remember
  • Feeling secure with having more things
  • Fear of losing or not having things they may need later on

Tips for managing hoarding behavior:

  • Lock away valuables (money and jewelry)
  • Check the trash before getting rid of its contents or secure the trash cans
  • Provide your loved one with some safe items such as a pile of books, linens, or recycled mail
  • Put together some “pretend” purses, containers, or drawers filled with items that are safe and acceptable for your loved one to keep and hoard
  • Identify hiding places. Some common places include: under cushions, in drawers, under beds, in pockets, closets or wardrobes.
  • Check hiding places periodically as hoarders will often use the same spot
  • Lock some rooms of the house so there will be fewer places to hide objects
  • Get extras of anything you can such as car keys and glasses
  • Do not take things that your loved one has hoarded; offer to trade them for something else
  • Keep your loved one busy and involved with activities or with others

Additional Resources  Collage of photos with pictures representing computers and the

VA Resources

US Department of Veterans Affairs
VA values your commitment as a partner in our pledge to care for those who have "borne the battle." We have several support and service options designed with you in mind. The programs are available both in and out of your home to help you care for yourself and the Veteran you love.

Geriatrics and Extended Care Services (GEC) is committed to optimizing the health and well-being of Veterans with multiple chronic conditions, life-limiting illness, frailty or disability associated with chronic disease, agining or injury. This VA site reviews information on delirium, dementia and Alzheimer's care, decision making, home and community based services, and advance care planning, among many other important topics that may be important for you as a caregiver.

Veteran's Crisis Line Phone: 1-800-273-8255 (Veterans Press 1)

The VA does not endorse the following resources or guarantee that their information is 100% accurate.  However, you may be able to find some helpful information by visiting the following pages:

Alzheimer's Association
Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregiver Center: Information and tips on how to deal with difficult behaviors.


References: Information adapted from Alzheimer’s Association and Office of Rural Health
If you have any questions or concerns, contact us.