Alzheimer’s and Mobility: How To Prevent Falls and Wandering

September is World Alzheimer’s Month — 30 days devoted to raising awareness for the 35 million people affected by dementia worldwide. On September 21st, Alzheimer’s Action Day, advocates across the globe are encouraged to “Go Purple” as a visible, united demonstration of “their support to end Alzheimer’s,” says the Alzheimer’s Association’s WAM site.

But until we can end Alzheimer’s, we must learn how to best help caregivers and those living with the disease. Today’s post is our way of “going purple” and working towards that goal.

What does Alzheimer’s have to do with mobility?

As dementia progresses, five main areas of daily life* will be affected, all of which are closely linked to mobility:

  • Judgment: Forgetting how to go up or down the stairs or wandering outside in the middle of the night are two examples of impaired judgment as a result of advancing Alzheimer’s.

  • Sense of time and place: Those with dementia are often unable to recognize or find certain once-familiar areas in the home, therefore limiting mobility.

  • Behavior: An individual with dementia can become easily confused, suspicious, or fearful, which could cause the person to avoid certain areas of the home or have difficulty moving from room to room. As a result of behavioral changes, the individual may attempt to exit the home even when it is unsafe to do so.

  • Physical ability: Many with Alzheimer’s, particularly those with Parkinson’s-related dementia, experience difficulty with balance and must depend on a cane, walker, wheelchair, or scooter to maneuver around the home or in public. However, as the disease advances and coordination decreases while memory loss increases, independently operating these mobility aids may no longer be feasible.

  • Senses: Those with dementia often experience changes in vision and hearing, sensitivity to temperature, or depth perception issues—all of which can wreak havoc on an individual’s ability to move freely and safely. These changes can also trigger wandering.

*Source: Alzheimer’s Association

Tips for creating a dementia-friendly environment

As a result of these changes, wandering becomes a major concern for caregivers. Falls could become more frequent, too. If you are an Alzheimer’s caregiver, consider these practical tips for creating a safe, comfortable environment through the disease’s many challenges:

Tip #1. Stay busy. Meaningful activities and a structured day prevent boredom and anxiety, which in turn can prevent wandering. Get activity ideas and inspiration here.

Tip #2. Assess and amend the home. Remove obstacles, hazards, and keep the environment clutter-free. For example, minimize background noise such as the radio or TV and put items away when you are finished using them. Read our post on making the home more conducive to aging in place for more safety strategies.

Tip #3. Encourage the use of mobility aids. While this may not be an option at some point in the disease process, many unnecessary falls could be avoided by simply using an aid. If you’re having trouble persuading an individual to use a cane, walker, wheelchair, or power scooter, get advice in this post.