Wandering in Alzheimer’s disease


Wandering is a common behavior among patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

The wandering may occur during the day or night, and it may be triggered by external stimuli, such as noise, light, or smells. It may also be caused by internal factors, such as sleep disorders, depression, or anxiety.

The wandering Alzheimer syndrome is a condition where patients lose their sense of direction and wander off without knowing why.

This happens when there is damage to the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for spatial navigation. Patients may become lost and disoriented, unable to find their way back home.

Wandering becomes a complicated situation for the family and professional environment.

Indeed, the elderly person can be in danger if the entourage or the police do not find him quickly.

Running away or wandering?

It is difficult to know whether a patient leaves voluntarily or by chance, especially since the memory problems from which he suffers make it difficult to distinguish. 

Moreover, the patient does not have all his faculties of judgment, which does not make it possible to know if the act is voluntary or not.

The main forms of running away are:

  • Running away due to orientation disorders. The patient is happy to be found.
  • Running away due to behavioral problems. The patient does not realize he is at home (confusion) or thinks he is still working or has a dependent child (delusions).
  • The reactive fugue. The patient does not find his bearings in the establishment he has just joined.
  • Running away due to a hostile environment. The patient does not feel included in the health care establishment in which he does not feels, comfortable, or thinks that the nursing staff will harm him.

Trompe l’oeil murals to improve the quality of life of patients

The idea behind trompe l’oeils is to trick your brain into thinking there’s something real when there isn’t. This technique is used in architecture, painting, sculpture, and even in medical treatments. It’s often used to create illusions of depth, which can help people who suffer from conditions like dementia.

In 2019, the Anna-Laberge Foundation obtained a donation that allowed it to install trompe-l’oeil murals in a residential center, in order to improve the quality of life of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. 

The murals, made up of different images, make it possible in particular to camouflage the elevator and exit doors of the unit, which, among other things, reduces attempts to run away and the interventions of the staff to counter them.

A box to help the person in the event of a runaway

In Belgium, an original solution has been found to find them as quickly as possible. In the event of a worrying disappearance, the investigators inspect a box which is in the fridge in the middle of the food.

The fridge is indeed the only piece of furniture that is the easiest to find in a house.

In this box is a booklet in which we find the basic information on the missing person: his photo, the addresses where the person is likely to go, the people to warn.

The Wandering Alzheimer Project

The Wandering Alzheimer Project is a project designed to provide a box which will allow people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease to wander safely. This box contains a GPS tracker, a panic button, and a mobile phone charger. It also includes a map of the area where the user lives, so that if they get lost, someone can find them.

Optical illusions to reduce runaways in long-term care centers

More and more accommodation and long-term care centers (CHSLD; equivalent of EPHAD in France) are using trompe-l’oeil murals that allow elevators and exits to be camouflaged.

This technique aims to reduce runaways and anxiety in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

It is currently used in a CHSLD in Montreal. Thus, the elevator or the exit door are replaced by a sideboard, a table or a general store.

« We try to use paints that encourage the recall of old memories », comments the head of unit.

An anti-fugue sensor in a sock

A 15-year-old New Yorker has developed a device that allows him to prevent people suffering from Alzheimer’s from running away.
This idea came to him following the runaways of his grandfather suffering from the disease.

The principle is as follows: when the Alzheimer’s person gets up at night, a wireless pressure sensor attached to the sock sends an audible alert to a smartphone. This device has been tested 437 times on his grandfather, with 100% success.

The young Kenneth Shinozuka hopes to be able to quickly provide hundreds of copies to caregivers. According to him, this tool will protect patients and reduce the stress of caregivers. Kenneth Shinozuka won the 2014 Google Science Fair prize worth $50,000.