When your loved one with dementia is missing

May 5, 2018 developer Comments
dementia wandering

My best friend’s mom wandered off and was found by the police a mile away. My co-worker’s husband went for a walk and got lost two miles away from home. We’ve all heard about cases like these because unfortunately, they are very common.

More than 300 dementia patients wander every day, or approximately 125,000 people a year. Most dementia patients don’t go very far, therefore may be found relatively quickly. However, there are many heart-breaking situations where the dementia patient wanders off and is not found right away. The longer they are lost, the greater the danger.

Consider this:

  • Of Alzheimer’s patients who are lost for 12 hours, 93 percent survive.
  • Of those who are lost for 24 hours, less than half survive.
  • And of dementia patients who are lost for more than 72 hours, only 20 percent survive.

When you have a loved one with dementia who goes missing, it’s very worrisome, because you wonder when it will happen next. Even those living in assisted living communities can wander off. Have a plan in place beforehand, so you know what to do in case of an emergency.

If your loved one goes missing:

  1. If your loved one is missing, call 911 immediately, and begin searching right away. Ninety-four percent of people who wander are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared.
  2. Know whom to call. In addition to 911, have a list of close friends and neighbors who may be aware of the patient’s plans, or whom the patient may want to visit.
  3. Have a clear, recent picture of the patient, that you can show to neighbors or the police. It’s a good idea to take a quick picture every morning, which shows the outfit and hairstyle the patient is wearing that day.
  4. Dementia patients may look for a familiar place. If they are still in the same town or neighborhood that they lived in for many years, former homes or workplaces, and places of worship are good places to look for missing dementia patients.
  5. Search dangerous areas in the neighborhood such as tunnels, areas with heavy traffic, or bodies of water.
  6. Check with neighborhood coffee shops or restaurants.
  7. It helps to know the dominant hand of the individual – if he is right-handed, he may have started wandering off to the right, and if he is left-handed, most likely he would have wandered off to the left.

Prevention Tips for Caregivers

  1. The best tip is to remain in the company of the dementia patient at all times.
  2. Provide the patient with a medical alert pendant, and ensure that they are visibly wearing medical identification jewelry. Another option is to get a temporary tattoo that lists the individual’s health condition and a contact phone number.
  3. If practical, have a secure, locked fence installed around the property.
  4. Install a bell on the front door, or an alarm to alert you immediately when someone leaves home.
  5. Ensure that the patient’s physical needs are met, as they may not think to communicate to you if they are hungry, need to use the bathroom, or if they are cold.

More tips here: How to prevent wandering for Alzheimer’s patients

If your loved one wants to go “home”

If your loved one tells you that he or she wants to go “home”, it’s best to respond in a warm and calm voice. Kindness is key, and in this case, brutal honesty is not necessary. Do not explain or argue with the patient, but distract and redirect their attention to another activity, such as going for a walk around the block or out for ice cream.

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