When walking becomes wandering: representing the fear of the fourth age


Brittain K, Degnen C, Gibson G, Dickinson C & Robinson L (2017) When walking becomes wandering: representing the fear of the fourth age. Sociology of Health and Illness, 39 (2), pp. 270-284.

Dementia is linked to behavioural changes that are perceived as challenging to care practices. One such behavioural change is ‘wandering’, something that is often deeply feared by carers and by people with dementia themselves. Understanding how behavioural changes like wandering are experienced as problematic is critically important in current discussions about the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia. In this article we draw on our secondary analysis of qualitative interviews and focus groups with carers of people with dementia to critically question ‘when does walking become wandering’? Drawing on theoretical perspectives from anthropology, sociology and human geography to explore experiences of carers and of people with dementia, we argue that a conceptual shift occurs in how pedestrian activity, usually represented as something purposeful, meaningful and healthy (walking) is seen as something threatening that needs managing (wandering). We demonstrate how this shift is connected to cultural assumptions about the mind-body relationship in both walking and in dementia. We further argue that the narratives of carers about wandering challenge the notion of ‘aimless’ walking in the fourth age. This is because, as these narratives show, there are often pronounced links to specific areas and meaningful places where people with dementia walk to.

dementia; wandering; fourth age; walking; place attachment; sense of place; mind-body; technology

Sociology of Health and Illness: Volume 39, Issue 2

Publication date28/02/2017
Publication date online28/02/2017
Date accepted by journal16/07/2016