Alzheimer's Risk Factors: What To Do When a Loved One Goes Missing

By Michelle Cemental

Wandering is one of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and it is one of the biggest Alzheimer's risk factors a caregiver may have to deal with one time or another. Wandering is exactly what it sounds like. A senior may wander off on their own. Maybe they decide to go on a walk around the block. However, a senior with Alzheimer’s may forget what they are doing and become confused, frightened, or scared. They may not realize where they are or how to get back home. Depending on the time of year, your loved one may be stuck in extreme hot or cold weather, which can put them in danger.

5.3 million Americans are diagnosed with this disease, and statistics show that over 50% of those diagnosed will wander. Over 70% of families who have experienced a loved one wandering are taking precautions to make sure their loved one does not wander off again. But despite your most careful preparations, your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia may still wander off. If that happens, here are some tips to find your loved one.

When a Loved One Goes Missing

If a loved one with Alzheimer’s has wandered off, you need to act immediately. The first 24 hours are a crucial time period to help ensure that your loved one returns home safely. Here are some initial steps you can take to locate your loved one.

  1. Perform an immediate search of the area. Studies show that those who wander are usually found within half a mile from where they were last seen. Check the home and the surrounding property. Check small spaces, like closets, along with your loved one’s favorite spots, like in the garden. If possible, send other family members into the neighborhood to look for your loved one. Enlisting the help of others will help you canvas more area. If you don't have success within about 15 minutes, proceed to the next step.
  2. Call 911. If you cannot find your loved one within about 15 minutes, call 911 and file a missing persons report. Make sure you mention that your loved one is a “vulnerable adult” who has Alzheimer’s disease and memory impairment. If you don’t mention these details, police may not begin their search for your loved one until 24 hours have passed. In your report, you may need to provide details about your loved one, like clothing and appearance, to help the police identify them. You can also ask if your area has a Silver Alert program to notify the public about missing seniors.
  3. Call national hotlines. Because some police departments may not be able or willing to help quickly, you should also contact additional resources who can help. You can search for local hotlines in your area or reach out to national ones. Here are a few national programs dedicated to finding seniors who have wandered.
    • Safe Return (1-800-625-3780): Safe Return is a 24-hour, nationwide emergency response service for individuals with Alzheimer's or a related dementia who wander or have a medical emergency.
    • National Silver Alert Program: a national program to alert media and law enforcement of your loved one’s wandering.
    • Medic Alert and Safe Return Program: a national program that activates a support network locally and nationally including law enforcement.
  4. Contact family or friends to stay with you. You may be in a state of panic or shock after your loved one goes missing, which can cause you to make irrational decisions. Stay calm, and follow instructions from police and Safe Return. Enlist the support of your family and friends to help support you during this time.
  5. Stay where you are. Have others continue searching on your behalf and keep phone lines open so that you can be easily contacted. This may be difficult because you will want to contribute to the search for your loved one. However, it’s important that you are available and can easily be reached by local police officers or others looking for your loved one.

Wandering Prevention & Resources

Ultimately, it is important to remember that the best defense is a great offense. A proactive approach towards prevention of wandering should be taken to ensure your peace of mind. But as we mentioned before, even your best efforts can still result in a loved one wandering. In these cases, having the aid of technology can help you find your loved one more quickly.

Listed below are some of the new tools and technologies available that can help you keep track of your loved one:

  • Project Lifesaver International: This technology provides clients with a personalized wristband that emits a tracking signal, so when your loved one goes missing, you can quickly find them. In fact, Project Lifesaver International has recovery times averaging less than 30 minutes.
  • Aertex GPS Footwear: GPS (Global Positioning System) embedded in the shoes sends an immediate alert with a Google map that plots a senior’s location to a smartphone or computer if they wander off more than a pre-set distance. You can set up this system to provide alerts to family members or professional caregivers.
  • LifeBeacon GPS Watch: The LifeBeacon GPS Watch is a mobile medical alert monitoring system that enables 24-hour EMT monitoring through manual connection and alerts to the SafetyCare Response Center staffed around the clock by certified EMTs and can find you or a loved one virtually anywhere on the planet.

At Caring Senior Service, we understand the difficulties of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's and dementia. We are always ready to assist your loved ones to keep them healthy, happy, and at home. For more tips on keeping your loved one with Alzheimer’s safe at home, review our Family Caregiver's Guide to Alzheimer's & Dementia.

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Tags: Alzheimer's & Dementia