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Walking with purpose and dementia

What some people call 'wandering', at Care UK we call walking with purpose. It is a common behaviour for people living with dementia and can be distressing for their loved ones. 

In fact, we found that despite 54% of people saying they associate ‘wandering’ as a common symptom of dementia, only 35% of people would feel comfortable talking about it, according to our recent survey. In the following video, we hear from real families sharing their experiences with loved ones who walk with purpose. 

The Big Dementia Conversation: Walking with purpose

Why people living with dementia walk with purpose 

“Nobody gets up and walks without a reason,” says Suzanne Mumford, Care UK's Head of Nursing, Care and Dementia 

While it may seem to family and friends that their loved one is walking without a purpose, it’s important to remember that there is always a reason or belief behind a person’s walking, even if it doesn’t seem obviousthey can’t tell you or they’ve forgotten why they got up. 

There are several reasons why people living with dementia walk, including:  

  • Forgetting where they put an item or where they were going
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Easing pain or moving from an uncomfortable environment
  • Feeling restless and relieving boredom or excess energy 

How to support someone who walks with purpose 

While walking can be good exercise for someone living with dementia and even help to relieve stress or anxiety, it can become a problem if they leave home without their keys or can’t find their way home.  

However, being told to sit down can lead to distress. Consider how you might feel if you got up with a purpose in mind but were constantly being told to sit back down. 

Four ways to support someone who walks with purpose are: 

1. Walk with them

Instead of telling them to sit down, if it’s safe to do so, accompany your loved one on a walk around the home or outside. A change of scenery can combat boredom, and a walk can be a much-needed opportunity for physical activity. 

2. Ensure their basic needs are met

Try asking if they need the toilet or are hungry. They may have forgotten they got up to go to the toilet or get something to eat. 

3. Offer opportunities for meaningful activities

Knowing an individual’s interests and life history can help you to understand why they are walking and support them to find a more engaging activity. At Care UK, our teams get to know each resident well so their care can be tailored to them – this is called person-centred care. If we know a person likes to bake, we might suggest walking into the kitchen where they can enjoy a more meaningful activity.  

4. Provide reassurance

If a change of scenery or an activity doesn’t occupy a person living with dementia who walks with purpose, music or a soft blanket might provide them with reassurance that they can relax. 

The Big Dementia Conversation 

We want to get the nation talking about dementia and some of the most difficult topics associated with the condition. Explore more articles in our online advice hub to take a closer look at the less-talked-about symptoms of dementia and how to navigate them. You can also discover more advice and support on our dementia help & advice page.