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Wandering 911: What to do When a Person with Dementia Goes Missing

Even the best prepared families can find themselves in a panic after a loved one has wandered from home. “Three times my husband has wandered away from the house and become lost,” said one family caregiver. “Paramedics, police, bloodhounds, family and neighbours have come to the rescue.”

What should you do if you are unable to locate an individual who has Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia? Time is of the essence, according to Monica Moreno, director of Early-Stage Initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association. “Those who wander are often found within a half mile of home or the starting location of the incident,” she said. Look in the house – especially in areas like closets – and the yard.

Try to think of clues to where that person may have gone, Moreno said. “Did Mom say she wanted to go somewhere – like the store – before the incident occurred? Look in the radius of that area, but allow no more than 15 minutes,” Moreno noted. “If your loved one is not found within 24 hours, he or she could be harmed.”

Here are the steps to take if you can’t find someone after 15 minutes:

  1. Call 911 and fill out a missing person’s report. Make sure law officers know that the missing person has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia and is a vulnerable adult. Have handy an updated photo and current medications list. Be prepared to share information about where and when the individual was last seen, what he or she was wearing when last seen, and if the individual likes to be called by a preferred name or nickname.

  2. If you live in Canada, we encourage you learn about the Medic AlertĀ® Safely HomeĀ® Program and register your family member who has dementia.

Moreno said that the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease among law enforcement officers and emergency personnel has improved immensely in recent years. To that end, the Alzheimer Society has an online handbook (PDF) to assist first responders.

To help prevent an emergency from happening, check out “The Whys Behind Wandering Behaviours”.

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