It is common for people with Alzheimer's to wander and become lost. In case of emergency, refer to the steps in the guide below for how to take immediate action. Or, as a precaution, print this guide as a handy reference.
What to do when your loved one wanders
- Search the immediate area for the lost person (15 minutes)
- Dial 911 if the person has not been found within a few minutes
(Note: When Police Arrive, ask them to implement a Mattie’s Call. Then, ask for Police to use Search and Rescue Dogs if person is on foot. Time is of the essence when using SAR dogs because scent trails, etc may become contaminated.)
- Call MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return at 1-888-572-1122 after calling 911. The MedicAlert + Safe Return Staff will contact local Alzheimer’s Association staff who will help with the situation., including working with Police, working with media, providing support to the family, etc.
- Wait by the phone for the police or for Alzheimer’s Association staff to call
- Ask neighbors, friends and family members to look in the immediate area
- Give a recent color photograph of the lost person to police
- Work with the police and the Alzheimer’s Association staff to determine likely places the person will go
- Provide detailed information to the police and the Alzheimer’s Association about the person’s vital statistics, including age, height, weight, eye and hair color, scars and birthmarks. Give detailed information about what the person was wearing.
- Provide the police with an item with the scent of the missing person. This can be used by search dogs trained to find the missing person. Make sure the item is not touched by others because this will hamper the rescue efforts.
There are a variety of tracking devices available. Below are the two tracking devices we most often recommend. Visit the linked website of each device to learn more information. Or, call our helpline at 1.800.272.3900 if you'd like for us to help you select the one that's the best fit for your loved one.
An affordable identification
A pocket-style device used commonly
for tracking vehicles or for people
with early-stage Alzheimer's
Mattie's Call is an emergency alert for missing 'disabled adults' that can be activated by local law enforcement. Click here to see the Mattie's Call Statewide Protocol.
The most effective way to determine if a loved one is safe to drive to to have a test done by a Driver Rehabilitation Specialist. Visit our Driving Assessment page to find tools and resources to help determine if your loved one is safe to drive.
Signs of Wandering Behavior
A person may be at risk for wandering if he or she:
- Comes back from a regular walk or drive later than usual
- Tries to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work
- Tries or wants to "go home," even when at home
- Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements
- Has a hard time locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or living room
- Acts as if doing a hobby or chore, but nothing gets done (such as moves around pots or dirt without actually planting anything)
Tips to Reduce Wandering
If you live with or care for a person with dementia, here are a few tips to help you reduce the risk of wandering:
- Move around and exercise to reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness
- Ensure all basic needs are met (toileting, nutrition, thirst)
- Carry out daily activities, such as folding laundry or preparing dinner, to provide daily structure
- Reassure the individual if he or she feels lost, abandoned, or disoriented
- Avoid busy places that are confusing and can cause disorientation, such as shopping malls
- Place deadbolts either high or low on exterior doors
- Control access to car keys (as an individual with dementia may not just wander on foot)
- Do not leave someone with dementia unsupervised in new surroundings