Supporting a person who walks about
If a person with dementia often walks about it can be difficult to know what to do. Read the following tips about supporting a person who walks about.
Helping someone walk about safely
It is important to remember that walking about may be a phase that the person is going through. Take the time to try to understand why they are walking about and what they need – this can often help to manage the situation.
If the person you are caring for wants to walk about, try to find a way for them to do so safely. For instance, you could try to find a local service, group or organisation that helps people with dementia take part in activities, including walking.
Some organisations also specialise in structured leisure and wellbeing activities for people with dementia. Your local Alzheimer’s Society service may be able to help you find out about what is available in your area.
You may be able to get help through a care needs assessment (also called a community care assessment in Northern Ireland). This is the process that local authorities use to assess the care needs of a person with dementia.
If the person wants to leave the house
If a person with dementia walks about, they may leave their home. This can be worrying for carers. It can be hard to know how to manage this situation and any risks, while maintaining the person’s independence.
If you want to encourage the person not to leave the house, try distracting them with an activity – even everyday tasks like folding clothes or laying the table. It can help if you suggest activities that involve moving around.
You can also try installing a door sensor that plays a pre-recorded message asking the person not to leave the house. It may also help if you switch off any outside lights at night to minimise what they can see through the windows.
You can also think about getting a specialist tracking device that uses GPS to locate where a person is. However you will need to get the person’s consent and think about whether a tracking device would be suitable for them.
These options may not suit everyone, and it’s important to monitor the things you try to make sure they do not cause further confusion or distress for the person you are caring for.
Do not use medication, such as sleeping tablets, to prevent the person from getting up at night or walking about. Doses that are strong enough to stop someone from walking about can make them feel drowsy and, in some instances, cause them to fall. Medication can also increase their confusion, worsen memory problems and possibly cause incontinence.
Some carers may decide to lock a person with dementia in their home so that they cannot leave. However, a person with dementia should never be locked in if they are on their own as this can be very dangerous – for example if there is a fire, or if they have an accident or fall.
If there is someone else in the house with the person, you may want to lock the doors to stop the person going outside and putting themselves at risk. You might do this, for example, if they live near a busy road. You should discuss whether to lock the doors with any other people who are involved in the person’s care. Any decisions that you make should not place the person with dementia at any risk, and doors should be locked for the shortest time necessary. Be aware of any fire risks and ensure that the locks are easy for you or another carer to operate.
If the person has capacity (the ability to make decisions) and consents to the doors being locked then you can lock them. If the person doesn’t have capacity you can lock the doors if it is in their best interests and is also the least restrictive option for keeping them safe.
Making decisions and managing difficult situations
Find out more about the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and get advice on how to approach decision-making for someone with dementia.