It is estimated that 60% of people with dementia will wander and become lost at some point; many do so repeatedly. If not found within 24 hours, up to half of wandering individuals will suffer serious injury or death. The WNY Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association offers tips to deal with this sometimes-dangerous situation.
Alzheimer’s disease can cause people to lose their ability to recognize familiar places and faces. It’s common for a person living with dementia to wander or become lost or confused about their location, and it can happen at any stage of the disease.
While the term "wandering" may suggest aimless movement, individuals who wander have a destination and a purpose. For example, a person who wanders may have a personal need such as going to the bathroom. And because people living with dementia can become disoriented even in a familiar place, this simple task can become a challenge and may prompt a person to leave the house.
There are several warning signs that lead to wandering including forgetting how to get to familiar places, talking about fulfilling former obligations, such as going to work and trying or wanting to “go home” even when at home.
To help families prevent their loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia from wandering, the Alzheimer’s Association offers these tips:
- Identify the time of day the person is most likely to wander. Plan things to do during this time including exercise as it may help reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness.
- Ensure all basic needs are met. This would include toileting, nutrition and hydration.
- Create a daily plan. Involve the person in daily activities, such as folding laundry or preparing dinner.
- Reassure the person if he or she feels lost, abandoned or disoriented.
- Consider using a GPS device. If the person is still safely driving, this can help if they get lost.
- Remove access to car keys. If the person is no longer driving, they may forget that they no longer drive.
- Avoid busy places. Shopping malls and other busy areas can be confusing and cause disorientation.
- Assess the person’s response to new surroundings. Do not leave someone with dementia unsupervised if new surroundings may cause confusion, disorientation or agitation
The Alzheimer’s Association, in collaboration with MedicAlert Foundation, provides membership plans with 24/7 Wandering Support, a nationwide emergency response service for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia who wander or have a medical emergency. If a member wanders and is missing, one phone call immediately activates MedicAlert’s Emergency Response Team to help reunite the person living with dementia with his or her family. Members can choose from a variety of ID products, including bracelets and necklaces. Learn more.
If a family member does wander and get lost, begin your search immediately. Start by searching the immediate vicinity, including “less-traveled” areas in your home. Outside the home, search the yard and nearby surroundings. Most people who wander are found within a half mile of their homes or starting location.
If, after 15 minutes, the person is not located, call 911 to file a missing person’s report. New York State law enforcement can issue a Missing Vulnerable Adult Alert, to alert the public that an individual who is at least 18 years old and has a cognitive disorder, mental disability or brain disorder has gone goes missing. This program allows for the rapid dissemination of information that can result in an individual’s safe return.
The WNY Chapter can provide families with a free Safety Services brochure with more information. To receive one, email firstname.lastname@example.org.