Question: I’m worried about my dad who has Alzheimer’s because he wandered off last week. What can I do to prevent him from getting lost? -Janey, Boise, Idaho

Answer: When you suspect your loved one may be easily confused about direction and surroundings, or when he or she is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or another dementia, immediately make plans to prevent them from getting lost.

  1. Notify neighbors of your concern and ask for their help by observing. Lock doors at night and consider installing an alarm system. Particularly in early and middle stages of dementia, when the person is ambulatory and does a lot of wandering, he or she will need to be closely monitored. Even in a familiar place, they may not recognize their surroundings and can lose their sense of direction.
  2. Have photos and description of the person available to assist the police or other searchers in case they do get lost.
  3. Initiate the "Safe Return" program of the Alzheimer's Association. This assures that your person will be registered with local authorities as well as regional and national services.

    Alzheimer's Association Safe Return™ is a nationwide identification, support and enrollment program that provides assistance when a person with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia, wanders and becomes lost locally or far from home. Assistance is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If a "Safe Return" enrollee is missing, one call immediately activates a community support network to help reunite the lost person with his or her caregiver. Safe Return faxes the enrolled person's information and photo to local law enforcement. When the person is found, a citizen or law official calls the 800-number on the identification products and Safe Return notifies listed contacts. The nearest Alzheimer's Association office provides information and support during the search and rescue efforts.

  4. If you realize the person is missing, quickly check the immediate surroundings first. Look in closets, the basement, and the garage. Check unusual places, such as crawl spaces, mechanical rooms, and the attic. Elicit assistance of neighbors in instituting a neighborhood search. Be calm and think about where they might have gone. The church? A park? A cemetery (to visit a particular grave)? A previous place of work?
  5. If the person is not located in the immediate area, notify the appropriate local authorities and/or your "Safe Return" program. A person with Alzheimer's disease can cover a great deal of distance in a short time.
  6. Provide information about what clothes he or she was wearing, their level of confusion, medical condition, what they might be looking for, what names they would respond to, and any other information you think would be helpful.
  7. Stay by the telephone in case authorities call you with information.
  8. It is important that you remain calm so that you can provide good information to the searchers. It is best to let the authorities do the larger search. They have protocols in place and are familiar with the area. You will also need to be home and ready with warm clothing and food or medicine when needed when your person is found.

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About Dr. Mindy

Dr. Mindy Kim-Miller is a trained medical physician who provides useful, but general answers to questions provided by online visitors. While Dr. Mindy can not provide specific medical advice or services, we hope you find her responses useful in your personal education. All information is provided for informational and educational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect you have an illness or disease, or a health related condition of any kind, seek professional medical care with an appropriate health care professional immediately. Do not postpone or delay seeking treatment or disregard professional advice based upon the general answers provided by Dr. Mindy. Dr. Mindy's advice is not intended to substitute for a visit to your personal physician or other qualified health provider. Any specific medical concerns or questions you may have should be directed to your personal physician or other qualified health provider.

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