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How Memory Care Communities Make Wandering Safe and Soothing

Wandering, a common behavior in those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, can happen at any stage. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, 60% of people with dementia will wander at some stage during their illness. While wandering itself is not a dangerous activity, a journal published by the National Library of Medicine reports that “wandering behavior in people with dementia is associated with an increased risk of falls, injuries and fractures.” Many memory care communities embrace wandering as a natural part of dementia, making it a safe and controlled experience.

Understanding Wandering 

There are many reasons why a person with dementia may begin to wander throughout their disease. Memory care communities that successfully embrace wandering also understand why it happens and how to identify an individual’s triggers. According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the most common reasons an individual with dementia will wander:

  • Stress. Those with dementia may be tempted to wander during stressful situations, such as a crowded area or unfamiliar environment.
  • Searching. A person with dementia will often get lost or wander when in search of someone or something.
  • Basic needs. If basic needs are unmet, a person with dementia may get lost searching for what they need, such as a restroom or kitchen area.
  • Spatial problems. Those with dementia can get lost even in familiar environments because dementia affects the parts of the brain that are responsible for visual guidance and navigation.

When these triggers are addressed and prevented, the risk of wandering decreases. While we can’t always prevent our loved ones from wandering, we can create an environment that keeps them safe.

Dementia Friendly Design

Memory care facilities that prioritize patient-centered care implement dementia-friendly designs that help reduce feelings of being lost and create safe environments if wandering occurs. According to Health Facilities Management Magazine, these are some of the ways memory care communities design their spaces to support the dementia community:

  • Residential qualities. Creating smaller spaces with private bedrooms and shared common spaces can help individuals with dementia feel more comfortable and can be less overwhelming than in institutional settings. Materials and color palettes, décor, and minimizing the visibility of any hospital equipment can make a huge difference in how dementia patients feel in their space.
  • Navigation design. Those with dementia are likely to get lost or occasionally lose their way, even in familiar environments. Memory care facilities that use distinct cues, such as artwork or color-coded hallways can help aid in wayfinding and decrease feelings of confusion for those with dementia. In addition, exposure to natural sunlight can help alleviate sleeping disorders and reduce the risk of sundowning.
  • Active engagement. Successful memory care communities are designed to promote engagement while additionally providing quiet and peaceful spaces. Wandering behaviors can often be redirected with safe and purposeful activities. Hallways and walkways will often lead to programming and workshop areas that promote active engagement and positively redirect wandering. In addition, if wandering behaviors are a result of stress or overstimulation, quiet spaces can alleviate these feelings and promote a sense of calm.  
  • Safety and security. Some symptoms of dementia include feelings of anxiety and paranoia, which can cause people with Alzheimer’s disease to feel unsafe even when they are in a secure environment. While it’s important that the actual environment is safe and secure, it’s equally important that those with dementia perceive themselves to be safe and secure. Memory care communities can encourage independence in their residents with dementia by adding subtle safety features such as lockable storage spaces for dangerous materials, restricted window openings, fences at least 6 feet high, and regulated water temperatures.

Supporting Safe Wandering

Environmental design within memory care communities can be used to support those who are at risk of wandering. When supported correctly, wandering can be a soothing activity that calms anxieties and promotes physical and mental well-being. According to research conducted by the Region of Peel Public Health, outdoor walking paths with continuous circulation loops can help limit confusing choices, reduce cognitive demand and allow for exercise and relaxation without frustration. Memory care communities that enhance their indoor and outdoor walkways with visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory stimuli can increase social interaction and reduce aggression among those with dementia. Pleasant noises, stimulating activities, and access to basic needs, such as toilets and eating areas along walkways can encourage a sense of independence while also making wandering a safe and enjoyable experience.

Environmental design can also be used to address common causes of unsafe wandering. Memory care communities will often eliminate overstimulation by reducing visible doors and clutter. Under stimulation in those with dementia can cause symptoms of the disease to worsen. To prevent this, memory care facilities will provide stimulating programs designed to engage those with dementia. These often include music, art, physical exercise, and gardening. Many communities provide wearable devices that alert staff when a person is seeking an exit to help ensure their safety.

Memory Care at Maplewood Senior Living 

Wandering can be a calming, self-soothing activity for those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Learn how we embrace safe, productive wandering in our memory care communities through dementia-friendly design and our HEART philosophy of providing joy alongside experienced care.

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Westport, CT 06880

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