37 alternatives to the dementia wanderer

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the wanderer painterly

“I agree,” commented Mini Merlin in response to the #1 reason people with dementia try to escape. “But I’m just curious what word you would substitute for ‘wandering’ as that’s what I’ve been using for my mom. She has dementia, but she is the loving, caring person she always has been.”

I promised Mini Merlin an answer; here it is: There’s nothing inherently wrong with the words “wander,” “wandering,” or “wander.” Consider this statement for example: “I love to go to the old parts of cities and wander around to see what I might find.” In this sense, wandering implies something pleasurable, natural, and explorative. Wandering is a good thing.

The problem arises when we attach negative connotations to normal behaviour such as wandering and use them to describe behaviour in people who live with dementia in ways that demean them. Worse, we add insult to injury by labeling them as “wanderers” as if this behaviour were aberrant, which it’s not. Purposefully walking somewhere is a completely normal and natural thing for human beings to do. Just because we don’t know what a person’s destination or purpose is, doesn’t mean they don’t have one, and just because they may have forgotten what their destination or purpose is doesn’t mean they didn’t have one to begin with.

I’m not suggesting that after a certain point in the evolution of the disease that it may become riskier for people who live with dementia to walk, explore and go places alone. They may easily become lost or disoriented. However, I believe we should find ways to accommodate their natural desire to move, exercise and discover, and thus to help them stay healthy and engage with life and their environment.

With that in mind, I offer these alternatives to describe “wandering:”

  1. Exploring
  2. Walking
  3. Looking further afield
  4. Walking purposefully
  5. Going somewhere
  6. Strolling
  7. Ambling
  8. Meandering joyfully
  9. Meandering for no apparent reason
  10. Roving further afield
  11. Roaming because that’s who they are
  12. Discovering the environment around her/him
  13. Seeking something
  14. Seeking nothing in particular
  15. Seeing new things and places
  16. Seeing what’s going on (inside, outside, in the next room, etc.)
  17. Looking for something
  18. Going out and about
  19. Going home
  20. Going to (the market, the pub, the park, an unknown destination)
  21. Exercising
  22. Expanding her/his world beyond four walls
  23. Finding new horizons
  24. Finding his/her way
  25. Investigating
  26. Taking a look around
  27. Surveying
  28. Inspecting
  29. Hiking
  30. Trekking
  31. Patrolling
  32. Striding
  33. Breaking the monotony of being in one place
  34. Exercising her/his freedom to move
  35. Thinking in motion
  36. Shopping
  37. Looking for the people who love him/her

Do you have more ideas? Feel free to share them in the comments.

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10 Comments

  1. Carole Mulliken on

    Exploring makes perfect sense, thanks. However, I believe there is more to wandering than simple curiosity. It was when stationary forms of life began to move that they began to develop brains. The more movement, the larger the animal’s brain began to grow. I believe much movement begins with a need to become, regain, or maintain orientation. Just as the hands of people with advanced dementia continue to fumble with buttons and zippers and lap toys are practicing skills they are losing, people get up and move around for the same reasons. They are orienting themselves in time and space. This is the same meaning as the word orienteering. When one is lost, one does not sit down to think about where he is. He gets up and moves around to discover clues to figure out where he is in relationship to known places. The brain is an amazing, self-righting machine much like a gyroscope. It wiggles around until it maintains its balance. Although diseased brains are losing the ability to orient, their desire to “reorient” themselves is actually a healthy adaptation, and should be viewed as such. Susan, are we “orienteering” when we wander?

    • Carole: that’s absolutely brilliant. Is it your theory, or does it come from somewhere else? I’m going to turn your comment into a post of its own.

      I also think that people often set off with the purpose, and then forget what the purpose is, and/or become lost, don’t recognize their destination, etc., and lo and behold all of a sudden they are “wandering.”

      • Carole Mulliken on

        Oh good! I’m glad you like it. It is my own conclusion, and I’d love for it to be a post attributed to me. I have over a hundred pages of things I have learned about living with dementia because of my own experience and my self-taught understanding of neuropsychology. I intended it to be a book, but even the publishers expect that you will promote your own book online and in appearances and so on, and I don’t have the ability to do that anymore. I used to travel, speak and train at conferences in my career, but none of that is possible any longer.

        If you are so inclined, I’d love to speak with you by phone or Zoom someday because I so admire what you are accomplishing on our behalf. And selfishly, I’d appreciate any suggestions you have for me.

        Carry on, my good woman!

  2. Carol Pappas on

    Your posts have been most appreciated and informative, but I have unsubscribed because my Lewy Body Dementia husband passed this morning. Thank you.

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