Dementia is an umbrella term for a variety of symptoms and conditions that affect the brain. Those affected often suffer from memory loss, speech difficulties, mood and behavior changes, or disorientation. The tendency to walk is a symptom that occurs in about 7 out of 10 people with dementia during the course of the disease.
What is a trend?
The tendency to walk, also known as the tendency to run, or the urge to move refers to the seemingly aimless walking around of people with dementia.
In the past, the tendency to walk was called the “tendency to walk away” because people often “ran away” from care facilities and then walked on without orientation. It is now known that there is a purpose behind it and people either want to go back to their usual homes or to walk to another well-known place of the past (work, meeting places, regulars' tables).
How is a running trend formed?
It mainly affects people with an advanced stage of dementia.
The (re)running tendency can express itself in different ways:
Some people simply walk back and forth in a room, while others leave their home or care facility and wander around the area.
The behavior can occur at any time of the day or night and can be triggered by a variety of stimuli, most notably changes in the environment, or an increased level of stress or anxiety.
How bad is a fading tendency?
In general, one has to distinguish between
- strong tendency to walk towards, in which the house/home is really left and one
- Weak tendency to run, with increased walking up and down the room and corridor.
A weak running tendency does not have to be a bad thing:
The urge to move, which is often no longer present in older people. Finally, the movement promotes muscles and the cardiovascular system. Unless the person is also at risk of falling or has cognitive problems, a slight tendency to run can also remain untreated (after consultation with a doctor). It is advisable to remove obstacles and create large spaces in the room to make wandering around as safe as possible.
However, a pronounced tendency towards towards leads to several problems:
- If you leave the apartment/home alone, orientation difficulties can mean that you can't find your way back and you end up wandering around in unfamiliar surroundings
- In road traffic, the disorientation poses a risk to the person walking and all road users
- Hiking in unfamiliar areas increases the risk of falling and injury
What is the best way to deal with a tendency to run?
There are a number of measures and strategies to prevent or reduce wandering among people with dementia. These must be tried out and adjusted individually in order to create the best possible living space. Some of them are:
- Create familiar surroundings (with familiar decor, colors, furniture) to reduce confusion and disorientation
- Providing activities and stimulation to keep the person engaged
- Introduction of a daily routine – this also generally helps with the daily routine with dementia
- Make the spatial design of the living space barrier-free (remove tripping hazards)
- There are also various products and technologies that keep people with dementia from wandering and support their caregivers
Such products would be:
- Door and window alarms that alert caregivers or family members when the person attempts to leave the home or care facility
- Pressure sensitive floor mats
- Roaming detection systems that use motion sensors or cameras to monitor the person's movements
- Devices that illuminate the path when movement is detected to prevent falls
- GPS tracking systems or location tracking devices
While it's important to understand that wandering is a common and difficult behavior associated with dementia, it's also important to know that with the right care and support, this behavior can be reduced or prevented. This may involve a combination of environmental and lifestyle changes, and the use of specialized products and technologies. Caregivers and loved ones need to be aware of this issue and find the best ways to help their loved ones.