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How to help your loved one with dementia, and avoid wandering

Scott Silknitter with Caregiving 101 says wandering is a common behavior in people with dementia, like yelling, crying or fighting.

HIGH POINT, N.C. — Heddie Dawkins, 81, went missing from her High Point home in the early morning hours of August 24. Her family says she has dementia.

The North Carolina Center for Missing Persons issued a Silver Alert for Dawkins, and crews are going on their seventh day of searching.

For people with dementia, Scott Silknitter of Caregiving 101 says wandering is a typical behavior, just like yelling, crying or fighting. He says there can be a number of triggers that lead to wandering.


  • Physical Pain, discomfort, and agitation: Toothache or UTIs can be painful, someone with advanced dementia may not understand or be able to express what is happening or how they feel so they try to run away from it – fight or flight. They don’t know how to fight so they take flight.
  • Emotional pain: If someone is not happy in their present situation or moment, they may try to get away. For example, your mom maybe is 78, but she might think she is 28 and a mom of two young kids. If she can’t find the kids she may get very worried and look for them.
  • Memory loss: As dementia robs someone of their short-term memory, they may not recognize where they live and head out to seek places that were once familiar to them. When mom was 28 with the young kids at home, they may have lived in a house with a big oak tree out front or a Blue door, she may be confused and stressed because she is not sure where she is and just wants to go home so she sets off for the house with the big oak tree.
  • Disorientation: Change in medication can affect.


  • Be aware and Be Present - Changes can happen week to week, day to day, and hour to hour. Be aware of what is happening with your loved one every day. Be present when you interact and take note of anything out of the ordinary. Investigate anything unusual before it becomes a trigger for something
  • Use existing tools
    • Door alarms or complete home systems
      • Fairly inexpensive DIY systems with cameras and alarms
    • Camouflage doors with door-size posters that make the door look like a bookshelf
  • Build a personal profile of your loved one – What they like, where they worked.  Information like this can be helpful to have a conversation to prevent boredom or reduce a behavioral outburst
  • Make a list of all medications and health issues to provide EMS or Police and neighbors who might search
  • Alert your support group – Family members, caregivers, and especially neighbors that wandering may happen if someone comes to stay with mom while you are out  

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