“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:”
- Looking further afield
- Walking purposefully
- Going somewhere
- Meandering joyfully
- Meandering for no apparent reason
- Roving further afield
- Roaming because that’s who they are
- Discovering the environment around her/him
- Seeking something
- Seeking nothing in particular
- Seeing new things and places
- Seeing what’s going on (inside, outside, in the next room, etc.)
- Looking for something
- Going out and about
- Going home
- Going to (the market, the pub, the park, an unknown destination)
- Expanding her/his world beyond four walls
- Finding new horizons
- Finding his/her way
- Taking a look around
- Breaking the monotony of being in one place
- Exercising her/his freedom to move
- Thinking in motion
- Looking for the people who love him/her
Do you have more ideas? Feel free to share them in the comments.