Behaviour changes

6. Walking

Some people with dementia start to walk about more. This may not be a problem for the person with dementia. However, it can be very stressful for carers, especially if the person stays out for long periods of time or leaves the home unexpectedly or during the night. Carers may feel that the person is walking aimlessly (sometimes referred to as 'wandering'), but there will often be a purpose to the walking. If carers can work out why the person is walking, it will help them put strategies in place.

Some reasons why people may walk include relieving boredom or anxiety, revisiting a past habit (eg collecting the children from school or taking the dog for a walk) or confusion. The person may also feel that they have somewhere to be. Walking may offer the person a chance to be independent, give them something to do and opportunities for exercise.

Walking: tips for carers

  • Make sure the person has plenty to do and is getting mental and physical stimulation during the day.
  • If you have a garden, use this if the person wants to go for a walk.
  • Make the house and garden as safe as possible. For more information see factsheet 503, Safety in the home.
  • If you're worried about the person's safety when they leave the house, consider going with them or asking someone else to go with them.
  • Consider disguising the exit door. You could paint it the same colour as the wall so it is less obvious, or use a curtain. Alternatively, place a large sign saying 'Don't go through this door'. Consider turning off the outside light to prevent the person from walking out towards the light.
  • Make sure the person has some form of personal identification with them and are dressed appropriately for the weather.
  • Consider using a locator device so you can keep track of the person if they walk off. For more information on these, and advice on the ethical issues, see Assistive technology - devices to help with everyday living.

There will always be some level of risk and it's important to balance any harm the person may come to against maintaining the person's independence and dignity.