Thomas’ mother, who lives with Alzheimer’s Disease, gave him had a rude shock one morning. When he awoke at 3 am and came out for a drink, he found his mother wandering around the dark kitchen in her nightgown. When quizzed on what she was doing, all she did was smile and say hello, while being unable to explain her bewildering action.
Wondering About Wandering
Besides being highly disturbing, a wandering person with dementia can be a source of distress and anxiety for the caregiver or loved one. The act of wandering is relatively common in persons with Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias. In fact, about six in 10 people with dementia will experience wandering episodes, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. And when it comes to who is most at risk, wandering can affect loved ones at any stage of dementia. As long as he or she is mobile and is experiencing a declining memory, he or she is vulnerable to this strange but dangerous symptom.
As in the case of Thomas’ mother, a wandering person may find it hard to explain her behaviour, due to a combination of a failing memory and the inability to effectively communicate and express herself. That said, there are several reasons as to why your loved one with dementia is wandering off on her own.
Going Nowhere And Everywhere
It is important to note that unlike hikers exploring the woods, a wandering person with dementia is far from purposeless. In fact, while it may seem like their wandering is an aimless act, there are usually innate reasons behind it. The most common one is due to the loss of short-term memory. Your loved one with dementia may set off for a friend’s house, only to forget where or why they are even out in the first place.
Disorientation and fear—both common by-products of dementia—may also account for their urge to ‘get out and get going, whether it is being frightened by a crowded place with loud noises, or having difficulty locating familiar places like the bathroom, and failing to recognise their own bedroom upon waking up.
Reigning In The Escape Artist
As worrisome as this symptom is for caregivers and loved ones, there are strategies you can adopt to minimise the risk and hopefully get a grip on dementia-related wandering. Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Michigan, School of Nursing, Dr Laura Struble, suggests taking the time to observe the nuances of their behaviour before deciding on intervention. “You first need to define what they are trying to achieve or where they want to go,” she said. “Don’t assume a ‘wanderer’ is literally just wandering. This behaviour is very individualised and a full description of their actions is essential.” This can be as simple as taking a step back, or asking your ward what she is doing.
A healthy dose of physical activity may also help keep the excess wandering in check. Engage them in their favourite hobby, be it gardening or crocheting, and reduce their desire to wander. An active day of controlled stimulation outdoors may also make them want to return home more. Create a daily plan of healthy and wholesome activities to provide some much needed structure in their lives.
If your loved one with dementia’s wandering becomes a significant risk, installing concealed locks or slide bolts that are beyond their reach may help, along with door alarms and sensors that sound whenever a door is opened to keep you notified.
Self-compassion is the act of treating ourselves with kindness, understanding and forgiveness rather than self-judgment and criticism. As self-compassion researcher Dr Kirsten Neff states:
“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings…”
Although the philosophy of self-compassion is ancient, recent research on the practice of self-compassion has shown that people who regularly practise self-compassion are less likely to be depressed, anxious and stressed. As a result, they are more likely to be happy, resilient and optimistic about the future. In the end, those who are self-compassionate experience better mental health. This is especially important when we are facing down high levels of stress and uncertainty every day which, by default, will trigger our negative thinking and emotional patterns. Self-compassion is the science behind how to support ourselves especially during times of stress and uncertainty.
“With self-compassion we mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. This allows us to hold ourselves in love and connection, giving ourselves the support and comfort needed to bear the pain, while providing the optimal conditions for growth and transformation.”
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