The National Institute on Aging reports that as many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia among older people. In addition to memory loss, symptoms include sleeplessness, agitation, depression, anxiety, anger and wandering.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six in 10 people with dementia will wander. Because a person with Alzheimer’s may become confused and disoriented and may not remember his or her name or address, wandering is particularly dangerous.
To avoid panic and improve the chances of a safe return, it is important to have an emergency plan in place in case a person with dementia becomes lost. The National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association recommend that caregivers take the following precautions:
- Make sure the person carries some form of identification or wears a medical bracelet indicating his or her illness and where he or she lives.
- Ask neighbors, friends and family to call if they see the person alone.
- Know your neighborhood. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 94 percent of people who wander are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared, so be aware of dangerous areas near the home, such as bodies of water, open stairwells, dense foliage, tunnels, bus stops and roads with heavy traffic.
- Because wandering usually follows the direction of the dominant hand, note whether the person is right- or left-handed.
- Make a list of people to call for help and keep the list easily accessible.
- Let neighbors and local police know that the person tends to wander.
- Keep a list of places where the person may wander, including past jobs, former homes, places of worship or favorite restaurants.
- Keep a recent close-up photo and updated medical information to give to police if the person becomes lost.
- Consider enrolling the person in the MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return Program (visit www.alz.org or call (888) 572-8566 to find the program in your area).
- Consider having the person carry or wear an electronic tracking GPS device, such as Comfort Zone and Comfort Zone Check-In, which helps indentify location.
- When someone with dementia is missing:
- Begin search-and-rescue efforts immediately.
- Search the immediate area for no more than 15 minutes before calling for help.
- Call 911 and report that a person with Alzheimer’s disease—a “vulnerable adult”—is missing.
- Call (800) 625-3780 to file a report with MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return. First responders are trained to check with MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return when they locate a missing person with dementia. You do not need to be enrolled in MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return to file a missing person report.