Aimless excursions

Photo by Flickr user Y. Ballester. Click for sourceNPR has an interesting short article on wandering in dementia. Conditions likes Alzheimer’s disease can cause patients to embark on seemingly aimless walks and sometime epic journeys, but nobody is quite sure why it happens.

We are fascinated by the pilgrim, the lost soul, the sovereign wayfarer. In others. In ourselves. The literature of wandering ‚Äî Homer’s Odysseus, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, Steinbeck’s Dust Bowl families, Star Trek’s questing starships, for instance ‚Äî fills shelves and shelves. “One wanders through life as if wandering through a field in the dark of night,” writes Lemony Snicket.

For dementia-driven wanderers, the desire to ramble can be amplified…

Scientists are also not sure why dementia often leads to roaming. But there is this sobering statistic from the Alzheimer’s Association: About 50 percent of people who wander will suffer serious injury or death if they are not found within 24 hours.

For this reason, wandering has been a subject of a fair amount of medical research. Unfortunately, it is still largely a mystery and all we know for certain is that patients who wander tend to be physically fitter but more cognitively impaired.

This had led to a number of innovative ideas to prevent patients getting lost, from electronic tracking by mobile phone to decoy bus stops on hospital grounds.

Link to NPR on wandering in dementia.

2 Comments

  1. Posted July 18, 2009 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    I would guess that if you’ve forgotten where you are, so that it feels unfamiliar, you might have an urge to go home. And if you can’t remember where home is, then you might wander, looking ffor it.

  2. Posted July 18, 2009 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I may seem a little bit cynic, but there could be some evolutionary explanation for that.. I mean, in the old societies, often having to feed an old non-productive person meant that some younger ones had to starve. Therefore such behavior might have evolved to avoid that. I know that old people in the Inuit culture voluntarily go to die in the old, when all their teeth have fallen off and they are not anymore able to chew on seal skins to soften them, being useful to the community.


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