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Why Do People With Dementia Wander at Night? Suggestions to Help You and Your Loved One

Updated on September 22, 2014
People with dementia often wander around looking for something or someone. When it happens at night, however, it can become even more of a concern.
People with dementia often wander around looking for something or someone. When it happens at night, however, it can become even more of a concern. | Source

It's common for elderly people who have dementia to wander at night, but this causes two problems for the person and his or her caregivers. One, it's hard to get a good night's sleep when your parent or grandparent is walking the floors. And, two, night wandering isn't safe for someone who is older and stumbling around in the dark. Especially if they leave the home.

When you learn why your loved one is walking about at night, you can help to ease some of their discomfort and hopefully to keep them safe from harm. You might even be able to get some sleep, too.

Have Bathroom Nearby

DementiaCareCentral.com advises to make sure the bathroom and toilet are easy to reach, easy to identify, and easy to use:

"As your loved one's coordination, memory, and pace slow down, it is important that he or she has access to a toilet that is on the same floor as close to his or her bedroom as possible. If it is not possible to be near a bathroom, try placing a commode chair, chamberpot, or bedpan in his or her bedroom. These items will become essential in the later stages of dementia when he or she is not able to move from the bed as much."

Basic Needs Could Be Cause of Dementia Wandering

The reason a person with dementia wanders at night is usually the same reason they are wandering during the day. Is she hungry or thirsty? Does he need to go to the bathroom? Are they cold or hot? Do they need to change clothes?

When a person has dementia, there could be a legitimate reason for their wandering. They might need to go to the bathroom, then end up forgetting where they were going and why. When this happens, they can wander around waiting for something to trigger their memory. In the meantime, because they are easily distracted, something else could catch their attention, which could lead them walking again to another area altogether.

One tip would be to give the person with dementia a snack and drink a couple hours before going to bed. Restricting food and drinks closer to bedtime, and then taking them to the bathroom before turning out the lights, can help your loved one's digestive system to get some rest as well. It could also help to prevent accidents in bed.

Going for a walk during the day might help to prevent dementia wandering at night.
Going for a walk during the day might help to prevent dementia wandering at night. | Source

Dementia Night Wandering Might Need More Daytime Exercise

For some people with dementia, getting more exercise during the day might help to lessen wandering at night. Depending on the person and what they are physically able to do, going for a walk with someone every afternoon might not only help wandering, but also give them something fun to do.

"This advice doesn’t apply to everybody," warns WebMD. "But some experts believe that getting physical activity during the day can help prevent wandering at night. Even a supervised walk around the block before dinner may be enough to reduce nighttime agitation."

Other Changes to Help General Dementia Discomfort

"Some changes are helpful for most dementia patients, like changes that reduce the chance of confusion," writes Dementia Care Notes (dementia-care-notes.in). "Reducing clutter and noise, having more light, using signs for the toilet, removing mirrors, removing the TV (or keeping the volume low).

"In addition, we can try to reduce triggers specific to the patient. For example, if the patient is used to picking up a purse before going out, we can remove that purse so that the patient feels she cannot go out because her purse is not there. Or if the patient gets perturbed by the phone, we can change the ring tone to something the patient does not associate with a phone call."

Write Notes to Your Parent or Grandparent with Dementia

Alzheimer's and Dementia Care Giver Center suggests writing things down for people with dementia. "Try using written notes as reminders if the person is able to understand them."

Some ideas include putting signs up around your home explaining what and where things are. Consider taping signs on the wall that point to the bathroom, kitchen and living areas. Put a sign on their bedroom door that states clearly, "Mom's Bedroom" or "Dad's Bedroom," for those times when they might become confused about which room is theirs.

Another idea is to write a note telling where you are. Tape it to your own bedroom door and write as simply as possible that you are inside the room and asleep; tell them that you love them and you will see them in the morning.

Confirmation that they are loved and not forgotten can be enough to ease some late night fears and confusions.

Your loved one could be lonely at night and looking for someone familiar.
Your loved one could be lonely at night and looking for someone familiar. | Source

Keep Your Dementia Loved One Safe Inside at Night

Obviously, safety is the first concern when an elderly person has a tendency to wander. Above all, you want to keep your loved one safe and inside at night.

Try these tips for the doors leading outside of your home:

  • Buy new locks. Try deadbolts that need a key to unlock the door or sliding deadbolt locks installed high on the door and out of reach.
  • Mask the door with a curtain. Some have suggested putting a curtain in front of your outside doors. If they look like a window, it might be enough for Mom or Grandma to go back to bed.
  • Put a mirror on the door. If there is a mirror on the door, the dementia patient could see themselves and think it is someone else, then turn around.
  • Hang bells on the doorknob. This can help to let you know when the door is opened.
  • Put "Stop" sign on the door. As mentioned above, writing notes is a good way to help point one back in the right direction. Everyone knows what "Stop" means.

Reduce Late Night Wandering with Gentle Sleep Aid

There are many ways to help reduce dementia wandering at night, but there may be times when you might need to consider some type of sleeping aid. Magnesium is a good option to ease anxiety and to help a person relax naturally. It's doubtful that you will need anything too strong, as most dementia patients tend to fall asleep easily. You merely want something that will help calm their wandering mind in order to get some rest.

"The risks of sleep-inducing medications for older people who are cognitively impaired are considerable," Alz.org adds. "They include increased risk for falls and fractures, confusion and a decline in the ability to care for oneself. If sleep medications are used, an attempt should be made to discontinue them after a regular sleep pattern has been established."

Let's face it. None of us are superhuman. There are times when you are going to fall asleep while a loved one who has dementia is wide awake. As much as you want to keep your parent, your grandparent, your spouse or whoever the person might be, safe from all harm, it's difficult to do when you're facing new challenges everyday. But, hopefully, these few suggestions will help in facing some of the nightly challenges.

Is It Dementia Wandering or Searching?

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    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 3 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      These are helpful tips. I hope I don't get dementia.

    • T-X-2 profile image
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      Tammy 3 years ago from Louisiana

      It is a sad disease. It's hard on everyone involved.

    • cecileportilla profile image

      Cecile Portilla 3 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      T-X-2

      Nice Hub! The safety tips that you shared are very important in keeping Dementia patients safe. We will be having more Dementia patients as the years go by. Good points regarding basic needs. .. Well Done!

    • T-X-2 profile image
      Author

      Tammy 3 years ago from Louisiana

      Thank you, Cecile. You are right about there being more and more patients with dementia. It is very sad, but true.

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