Alzheimer’ s and Wandering

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month

I first posted this in 2013 and have edited since.

Last Sunday morning Oakley Police Officers took a missing person report. An 80 year subject with dementia left her residence to an unknown location. Officers and a K9 conducted an immediate area check but could not locate her. Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team (SAR) was called out to the location. While SAR was setting up for deployment, ARM found subject in the area of Lone Tree Way and Fairview Av. in Brentwood . Subject was returned to her family in good health.

If you don’t now you will probably will know someone with Alzheimer’ s in the near future. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), as many as 5.1 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that destroys memory and intellectual function. That number is expected to grow to 20 million in the coming years, according to researchers at George Mason University. For me it was my two Grandmothers and one Grandfather, all who have since passed, and now my aunt and dad. My dad was officially diagnosed in January of 2004. (My dad passed in October of 2014, my aunt passed in April of 2017). My mother had been the primary caregiver for all except my aunt. She tells her story much better than I in her blog . Generally accepted statistics used by the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association (ADARDA) show that one in ten persons aged 65 and over, and nearly 50% of all persons aged 85 and over have Alzheimer’s disease.

Six in 10 people with dementia will wander. ( A quick note; Dementia is a general term that describes a group of symptoms, such as loss of memory, judgment, language, complex motor skills and other intellectual functions, caused by the permanent damage or death of the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, over a prolonged period. One or more of several diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, can cause dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, representing about 60 percent of all dementias identified at clinical assessment.) It can happen on foot and it can happen while driving. While wandering episodes frequently have happy and sometimes amusing endings, they’re no laughing matter. The Alzheimer’s Association says if wanderers are “not found within 24 hours, up to half will suffer serious injury or death.”

For those who take off on foot they can get lost less than a mile from home. Instead of crying out for help, they become frightened and disoriented and might hide from their rescuers. Search records and anecdotal history from law enforcement officers show that even when people with Alzheimer’s who wander do encounter public citizens, they are often ignored, considered “homeless” or given aid, but are not reported to responsible agencies. Search missions can last 20 minutes, or they can drag on for days. On average, it takes nine hours to find someone with Alzheimer’s who has gone missing, according to a 2012 report by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends these steps to prevent wandering:

  • Install slide bolts at the top or bottom of doors.
  • Place warning bells on doors.
  • Cover doorknobs with childproof knobs.
  • Camouflage doors by painting them the same shade as surrounding walls.
  • Create a two-foot black threshold in front of doors with paint or tape. (A rug might do the job, too.) This creates the illusion of a gap or hole that a person with limited visual spatial abilities may be reluctant to cross.
  • Have a recent, close-up photograph of your patient available, both print and digital.
  • Keep a written list of places that he might go, such as church or a favorite restaurant, job site or previous home.
  • Post emergency numbers in a handy spot.
  • Buy identification jewelry engraved with “memory impaired” and your patient’s name, address and phone number.
  • A high-tech option uses GPS and cell phone towers to provide an approximate location for a person who might wander. You can request an alert if your patient, who must be wearing the locator device, leaves a specified zone. Or you might tap into the system only in case of emergency.

What to Do If Your Loved One Wanders Away
Time is of the essence. It is extremely important to not delay action. Several immediate steps you can take are:

  • Notify police immediately. Call 911.
  • Have a safety plan in place, and a phone tree to alert friends and family.
  • Alert local businesses and neighbors prior to an occurrence of wandering to increase awareness of your loved ones condition and tendencies.
  • Use social media when applicable.
  • Some states have Silver Alert to help find missing seniors.

The Alzheimer’s Association has launched a MedicAlert + Safe Return program that coordinates with law enforcement when a person has wandered and provides assistance and medical-record access to wanderers and their families. For $50, with a $25 annual renewal fee, patients are given a medical bracelet to wear and are enrolled in the program at

About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit, Transplan, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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