Restlessness and Agitation
People who tend to wander might also feel agitated, fidget, tap their fingers or practice other repetitive movements. Collectively these behaviors are known as restlessness and are sometimes a symptom of the physical changes in the brain caused by dementia.
The need to walk about can sometimes be a side effect of certain medications (such as some antipsychotics). Again, ask the person’s doctor to check whether their prescription could be causing this behavior. There is also a medical condition called ‘restless leg syndrome’ which causes an overwhelming, irresistible urge to move the legs to prevent unpleasant sensations – mostly when sleeping. This condition can result in someone getting up and walking about during the night. If restless leg syndrome is suspected please bring them in for a doctor’s visit.
A person with dementia might embark on a journey for a specific purpose, with a particular goal in mind, and then forget where they were going and find themselves lost. This can be an upsetting experience. The person could also be searching for something that they have lost or believe to be lost. Keeping personal possessions on view may help prevent this.
Alternatively, they might forgot that their caregiver has told them they are going out, and will start looking for them. This may lead to the person feeling extremely anxious, and they will need a great deal of reassurance in return. In the earlier stages, it might help if the caregiver leaves notes to remind the person where they have gone and when they will return. These should be securely placed in a location where the person will see them, such as on the fridge or on the inside of the front door or maybe right next to where they usually sit.
A Focus on Past Events of People
As someone’s dementia progresses, they may try to seek out someone or something from their past. Encourage them to talk about this, and show them that you take their feelings seriously. Avoid correcting what the person may say. It is important to focus on their feelings instead of the accuracy of their comments. For example, if the person is looking for their mother, ask them what they miss about her and maybe bring out some old photographs if they are available. This may help them deal with their emotional needs.
Confusion about the Time
People with dementia can often become confused about the time of day. They can wake up in the middle of the night and get dressed, ready for the next day. This confusion is especially understandable in winter when it is common to go to sleep and then wake up while it is still dark outside.
Having a large clock that shows am and pm, and keeping it by the person’s bedside might help. Some clocks also show the day of the week and the date. However, if the person’s body clock is seriously out of sync, you should probably seek professional help.
If night time walking is a particular issue, the person may be having trouble sleeping. Simple measures that may help include avoiding daytime napping and not consuming caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee or energy drinks late in the day. Drinking alcohol, smoking or eating a large meal should also be avoided closer to bedtime. Taking dementia medication in the morning may be helpful if nightmares or vivid dreams are a problem, but check with their doctor. Exercise may also be helpful in addressing this.
If you are interested in help with these issues check out the Memory Care facility available at Platinum Communities Larson House in Columbus.