A disheartening number of people are being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every day. Currently, 5.4 million Americans are living with the disease. It is also the  most common form of dementia. The disease interferes with memory and other cognitive abilities. One of the scariest events that can occur with an Alzheimer’s patient is when they walk away from their home or other familiar environment without telling someone. The Alzheimer’s Association has vital tips on how to prevent and handle this serious concern.

Alzheimer's Wandering

Linsey Norton, BA, LBSW, is the Family Care Coordinator and Program Assistant for The Alzheimer’s Association of Central and Western Kansas. She recommends that all Alzheimer’s patients are enrolled in their Safe Return program. The program provides immediate assistance to the family if the loved one ever wanders away.

“The programs provides a medicalert bracelet with an ID number and an 800 number,” Norton said. “If the person gets lost, anyone who finds them can call the telephone number, provide the ID number, and find out who their caregiver or contact is.”

Additionally, the program allows for the caregiver to call in and have the authorities contacted, then get a picture of the patient out to local news stations. From there, hospitals and other organizations can be contacted too.

As prevention is the most powerful weapon, Norton pointed out that the program has a 99% success rate.

What should a person do if their loved one is not enrolled in the Safe Return program? Norton said the first step is to call 911 or the local police. A search should be started as soon as possible. Norton also pointed out that the Alzheimer’s Association has a 24/7 hotline that can assist. The search is much different than when a non-dementia person has gone missing and needs to be treated differently.

“When dealing with a confused or demented individual, it can be helpful to remember that when they get lost they will not always look or ask for help,” Norton explained. “Often a person with Alzheimer’s disease will hide in out-of-the-way locations when scared or disoriented.”

Because of the unique nature of Alzheimer’s patients, Norton had some extra advice on how to get community support should your loved one ever wander.

“I also advise families to get in touch with their local police station before an emergency happens. Often if we advise the sheriff”s department of a vulnerable older adult they are able to be more vigilant and respond quickly when needed. For example, Sedgwick county offers a program called S.E.N.I.O.R.S, which stores medical records, contact information, and any other relevant info in a database for emergency workers and first responders in order to assist them with frail/elderly or disabled individuals,” said Norton.

Finally, Norton offered a few more simple at-home tips to help prevent the incident from occurring. Norton said placing a black rug in front of the doormat often appears like a black hole to the patient due to the disease, causing impaired depth perception. Also, child locks on the door knobs can be very effective, along with slide locks located higher on the doors. If exiting is difficult, the event may never take place.

And for the patient that is more prone to wander than others, Norton suggested there are companies who make special tracking and GPS devices that alert caregivers when an individual has left the property.

The issue of wandering is scary and can be very dangerous. The Alzheimer’s Association has a Care Giver’s section on their website with additional information about wandering.


Contributor – Lacy Hansen