Dementia And The Missing Elderly

Annie Keller

The increasing elderly population in the United States has led to a corresponding increase in dementia cases. This increase has also led to an increase in missing elderly people. One of the symptoms of dementia is wandering, and a person with dementia who wanders off may not remember how to get back home. An estimated six out of ten people with dementia will wander. Some are eventually found safe, but tragically not all are.

Dementia is often associated with Alzheimer's disease. However, dementia is really a large group of conditions that includes Alzheimer's disease. It is usually defined as a loss of mental ability severe enough to interfere with regular life activities. Most dementia sufferers are over the age of 64, but some can be as young as 40. They often wander because they are looking for a place they can't find, trying to do something done in the past, or are dealing with irregular sleep patterns.

Several strategies are suggested to prevent someone with dementia from wandering off. They include establishing a daily routine, avoiding crowded places, reassuring the person they are safe, and making sure that all essential needs (such as food and water) are taken care of. One nursing home in Germany took an unusual step of putting a fake bus stop outside the facility. Instead of wandering off, patients would sit at the "bus stop" and wait for the bus to come. More high-tech systems, like tracking bracelets, are available but not as frequently used.

In the event that a person with dementia does wander off, the police should be called right away. There is no waiting period for reporting the disappearance of a disabled individual in the United States. Current photographs should be available at all times. An ID or Medic Alert bracelet can help identify the individual. Check familiar places. Dementia patients will often wander in the direction of their dominant hand, so know what that is and how to follow it. Some patients are drawn to water.

Police departments have spoken many times about the difficulty of dealing with a dementia patient who has wandered off. Many have undertaken special training for that purpose. They emphasise that they should know any conditions the missing person has, not just dementia, because these can be crucial in finding the person. A system similar to the better-known Amber Alert, the Silver Alert, can be used for a missing person with dementia. However, to be enacted, the person's condition must be known.

If the person with dementia is not found quickly, they can easily succumb to the elements. Prevention measures should be in place, and if the person vanishes anyway, no time should be wasted in the search.

[Image stock photo via Pixabay]