Wandering Behaviour

Preventing and managing wandering behaviour

The following scenario describes the recommended approach and responses to preventing and managing wandering behaviour. Below the flow chart you will find specific strategies to manage wandering.


Wandering Behaviour flow chart

C = Consequence B = Behaviour A = Activating Event

Environmental influences in residential settings

In residential aged care facilities there are many factors that may influence residents to wander. These include:

  • Inactivity/boredom – lack of activity may lead the person to wander around looking for something to do.
  • Loneliness – wandering may be a substitute for social interaction.
  • Staff giving extra attention to 'disruptive' behaviour.
  • Loss of personal possessions and mementos.
  • Unhelpful surroundings and inadequate building design (no area for residents to safely wander).
  • Care regimes and routines (inconsistency in routine and staff).
  • Special problems at night (e.g.: routinely putting everyone to bed after tea).

How can we manage wandering?

  • Look for a pattern to the wandering and the sort of wandering it is (eg aimless).
  • Look for a reason for the wandering (eg does the person think they have to do something?)
  • By thinking about the pattern and reason for wandering it might be possible to plan other activities in advance.
  • Exercise such as walking may help if the person is bored or if there is too much going on around them.
  • Distract the person to another activity.
  • Walk with the person for a while and then suggest a rest.
  • Use of visual barriers, eg disguise the door, white strips in front of door, 'stop' sign or 'no exit' sign etc.
  • Ensure the environment is not too hot or too cold.
  • Assess for pain and other unmet needs that may be making the person restless, such as hunger, thirst, need for toilet.
  • Place familiar objects and mementos around the room.
  • Make sure the environment is safe by locking away sharp objects, medications etc.
  • Have a current picture available of the person in case they become lost.

References and recommended reading

Alzheimer's Association Australia (2000). Help Sheets for people with dementia and their families and carers. Alzheimer's Association Australia. [available online] http://www.alzheimers.org.au/.

Coltharp, W.E. Jr. Richie, M.F. Kaas, M.J. (1996). Wandering. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, Vol.22.No.11.pp.5-10.

Department of Veterans Affairs - Health Promotion Section & Alzheimer's Association Australia (2001). Living with Dementia - A guide for Veterans and their Families. Commonwealth of Australia [available online July 2002] http://www.dva.gov.au.

Keane, B. & Dixon, C. (1999). Caring for people with problem behaviours. 2nd Ed. Ausmed Publications, Australia.

Robinson, A. Spencer, B. & White, L. (1991). Understanding Difficult Behaviours: Some practical suggestions for coping with Alzheimer's Disease and related illnesses. Eastern Michigan University, USA.