As an eldercare advisor, one of the common behaviors families tell me they are faced with is continuous pacing or walking by a family member. In a parent’s world where anchors are no longer a stabilizing force, walking may bring a person to a more secure place or away from an equally unfamiliar place
My visits to senior residences bear this out. I see people repetitively walking up and down the halls or endlessly ambling through a specially designed dementia garden. Why? The reasons are as varied as the individual. But let me suggest a few:
The need to release energy: there may be pent up energy that has nowhere to go. The same could be said for boredom. Repetitive walking may be the solution.
Responding to anxiety: with the gradual dimming of their world, people with dementia may get agitated, stressed or anxious. Walking may help to lessen these feelings.
Retaining independence: when a Being is being lessened, the “feeling” of walking may give the person a feeling of purpose. She may feel she is walking to a particular place that was a part of her routine.
Feeling lost: this is especially true if a person has moved to a residence or has just started in a day program. He is walking to familiarity, someplace he knows. His confusion may lessen as he becomes acclimated to the new environment.
Experiencing pain: walking may provide a way to lessen this discomfort. The person may not be able to verbalize the pain associated with arthritis or the discomfort of constipation.
Searching for the past: often the phrase “I want to go home” is associated with dementia. Walking allows the person to search for someone or something related to their past.
As an eldercare advisor, I suggest to families that as long as the person is safe, let them continue on their journey. But also try to encourage them to talk about why and where they are going. It will allow for a better understanding of where the person is. That allows us to become a light house where an anchor can be securely dropped, if only for a moment.