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. “EMTs, state police, bloodhounds, family and neighbors have come to the rescue.”

A senior man is lost and confused.

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. In such cases, law enforcement typically does not require a 24-hour waiting period to look for a missing individual. 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. Activate the free Missing Senior Network℠ service. Visit MissingSeniorNetwork.com to learn more about how to notify your network of family, friends and businesses should a loved one become lost.

  3. If you’re having trouble convincing law officers to take your concerns seriously, call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900. The Alzheimer’s Association will talk with law officers and confirm the need for immediate action.

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’s Association has created an online training program for first responders. Since the program was launched in 2014, more than 5,000 police and emergency personnel have taken the course. “We’re really proud of this training and thrilled that first responders have embraced it,” Moreno said.

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

6 thoughts on “Wandering 911: What to Do When a Person with Dementia Goes Missing

  • Christine Hall

    My husband Mike Hall has dementia i am sure of this and i have problems giving him meds, he also likes to argue with me.

  • NO Excuses

    Call the ALZ association and get some local help. No excuses for lack of knowledge. It is out there, but you as the caregiver have a legal responsibility to find it.

  • Ashley Johnson

    It made sense when you said that you should call 911 to find a missing person. I would imagine that getting that attention of the police will start a search to find them. For this reason, if I ever needed help with this kind of situation I would call 911.

  • Cassidy woods

    It is very vital to consider Alzheimer association when no one will be there to help you out in missing situation of your parents. Thanks for sharing this useful content with us.

  • Sylvia Roddy

    My son is only 31 ..but has been feeling really sick for at least 2 weeks..he is having symptoms of dimemtia..he went missing last night..was found ..about 7 miles away ..then taken to energency room then released..went missing again..his mind seens to be coming and going..hes walking ..in niddle of night..so no fear..not himself..

    • Marianna

      Please make sure this is not a delerium. Do you have a good “dementia” diagnosis, with a support system? Delerium looks like dementia, but is not the same thing and largely can be treated. At age 31, there are many things other than dementia that cause similar symptoms.

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