Six in ten Alzheimer’s patients will wander, and when they do it is downright dangerous for them, and a nightmare for their caregiver. It doesn’t take long for panic to set in, as the caregiver envisions every possible obstacle and potentially treacherous situation that his or her loved-one might face during their missing incident.

While panicking is the most natural thing to do, it is of course not helpful in ensuring your loved-one’s safe return. However, before we take a look at what to do in the event that a dementia patient goes missing, let’s observe the reasons that lead up to it.

Wandering, even getting lost, is an unfortunate symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to a University of Florida study[1], there are many reasons and even common scenarios that account for a person with dementia becoming lost. They include:

  • Normal and independent activity

During a brief time of independence the person with dementia wanders away.[2]

  • Inability to follow instructions

 The person with dementia becomes lost when he or she is unable to retain instructions, perhaps about where to wait for the caregiver.

  • Independent wakening

 The dementia patient is lost, after awakening on his or her own. They make, what the study terms as, a “judgmental or way-finding error”. [3]

  • Agitation

Perhaps in response to becoming agitated with their caregiver, the dementia patient wanders off. [4]

  • Unusual situations

 Unexpected situations that are beyond the normal, habitual or structured daily activities occur. The dementia patient prompted by more confusion wanders away.[5]

Knowing the reasons why dementia patients wander, and attempting to avoid those things, can help to keep them safe at home. However, there are no guarantees. In a given year, it is estimated that 60% of Alzheimer’s patients wander, and half of those individuals will become lost. One study indicates that o Alzheimer’s patients getting lost, at least 30,000 critical cases a year are reported to police. [6]

We know the danger. We know how to best avoid it, but what can we do once the unthinkable has occurred? What is the first step in finding help and getting our loved one with dementia in a safe environment?

  • Vulnerable Adult Goes Missing

A search should begin the Nano-second the caregiver recognizes that the person with dementia has gone missing. Searching the immediate area for a long period can be a huge waste of time; Spend 10-15 minutes max, and then immediately report the person missing to the police. Dial 9-1-1. Because the person that’s gone missing has Alzheimer’s, it is definitely considered an emergency, and the usual waiting period for filing a missing persons report will be waived. The police will be familiar with the term, “vulnerable adult”, and the search for your loved-one will begin right away.

The caregiver’s firsthand knowledge of the dementia patient’s habits will prove invaluable.

  • Knowing if the patient is right or left hand dominant could speed the process of bringing the patient home. In many cases the person’s first step away will be in the direction of their dominant hand.
  • Is there a special place within the neighborhood that the caregiver often takes the person with dementia; a lovely park for instance?
  • Is the person wearing Medic Alert or identification jewelry?

A Medic Alert bracelet or pendant is quite useful in the event that your loved one goes missing. MedicAlert coupled with the Alzheimer’s Association’s Safe Return is a nationwide emergency response service that operates 24-hours.

Here’s how it works.

Caregivers call the hotline to report that the person wearing the jewelry is lost. The call can be made at any hour of the day or night. At this point local Alzheimer’s Association chapters, and law enforcement agencies within the community support network are notified. Anyone finding the patient, whether they are a member of emergency personnel or a citizen, can call the 800 number on the back of the jewelry, alerting the proper authorities that your loved–one has been found.

For more information on the MedicAlert/Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program, call: 1-888-572-8566, or go online at www.medicalert.org/safereturn.

[1] Prevalence and Antecedents to Dementia-Related Missing Incidents

[2] “Lost and Found” A report by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America on the methods and technologies to aid law enforcement in locating missing adults with dementia.

[3] “Lost and Found” A report by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America on the methods and technologies to aid law enforcement in locating missing adults with dementia.

[4] “Lost and Found” A report by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America on the methods and technologies to aid law enforcement in locating missing adults with dementia.

[5] “Lost and Found” A report by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America on the methods and technologies to aid law enforcement in locating missing adults with dementia.

[6] 6 Butler, B., B. Barnett (1991) Window of wandering. Geriatric Nursing September/October 226

 

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