Support with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Behaviors: Puttering and Wandering

When thinking about dementia and Alzheimer’s, we must first acknowledge that it is a progressive chronic health challenge with observable cognitive and behavior changes. Each person is unique, some progress more slowly, while some demonstrate dramatic changes in behavior. If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed or uncertain while caring for a loved one with a memory loss diagnosis, please remember to be gentle with yourself, as well as with them. No doubt you are doing the best you can to navigate this new territory.

Now, let us look at one of the more commonly observed changes in behavior: a tendency to wander or putter (tinkering, picking-up decorative items, frames, papers, or books around the house, going through closets or kitchen drawers).

On the more serious side, wandering and puttering can lead to a person with Mild Cognitive Impairment walking out the door and ending up lost. They can’t remember how to get back to the house, or they have a fall due to unsteady footing, or anxiety and exhaustion. Below are some steps you can take to keep a person who is puttering/wandering safe.

  1. Create Safe Junk Drawers
    Create a safe junk drawer or box. This can include a pad of paper, a pencil, a washcloth or sponge, a silk flower, a small stuffed animal, post cards, dice, comb/brush (avoid sharp or very small objects). Things the person can tinker with and not get hurt.
  2. Remove Throw Rugs
    Throw rugs are one of the worst offenders as far as trip hazards go. Not just in the bathrooms, but hallways, kitchens, even living room area rugs. They are traps for shuffled feet, walkers and canes. Most “Age in Place” industry experts will make this their first recommendation for seniors, with or without a memory loss diagnosis.
  3. Increase Fluid In-take
    With all the walking around, a big concern is dehydration and urinary tract infections (UTI). Find a way to increase fluids by having them walk around with a glass of water, a popsicle, some jello or even a thermos of coffee.
  4. Place Decals at Eye Level on Sliding Glass Doors
    Have you ever walked into a sliding glass door or screen? It is embarrassing, but sometimes it also really hurts. With memory loss, there are changes in observation skills and depth perception. Placing a decal or sticker about eye level on glass doors can help them recognize an obstacle or door and prevent bumps, bruises and falls.
  5. Install Door Chimes or Bell Wreaths
    The biggest challenge is knowing when the person is heading outside, so you can respond and redirect them (especially during the night). Considering installing door chimes on all the doors that go to the outside (Examples: Or, for a less expensive option, pick up some small wreaths made from jingle bells and put them on door handles. Condition yourself to double check on things when you hear the chime or bells.
  6. Consider a Baby Monitor for Nighttime
    If your loved one with memory loss is sleeping in their own room at night, a baby monitor might be helpful. While somewhat invasive, you can hear if they are calling for help, getting up, or seeming restless. It may give you some peace of mind to fall asleep, knowing you will hear if something occurs.
  7. Order a Bracelet or Necklace with your Contact Information
    Consider ordering an engraved bracelet or necklace that has their name and your contact information. If your loved one served in the military, you might consider a dog-tag type design. This way if they wander away from the house, someone that helps them will give you a call.
  8. Register with the Sheriff Take Me Home program
    In San Diego County, we have a wonderful, free service, the Sheriff Take Me Home program. After registering your loved one, if they go missing, swift action can be taken to bring them home safe. For more information and to register visit The Take Me Home Program is a regional photo-based information system hosted by the Sheriff’s Department and accessible by all Law Enforcement in San Diego County. It is designed to assist members of the community who have Autism, Dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other disabilities.
    Being frank, wandering and puttering (including falls, confusion or being lost), are common experiences in the dementia/Alzheimer’s world. Each of these tips can help keep your loved one safer, but there is no guarantee. There will likely come a time when they will need gate alarms and 24-hour caregiving to keep safe. For more information on memory care specialty programming, advanced and high-tech safety features, and 24-hour care, visit


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