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Missing: Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Wandering

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
4 minute readLast updated April 10, 2023

When seniors become lost due to confusion or memory loss it can be extremely frightening for both the family of the senior and the senior who is lost.

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What You Need to Know About Preventing Wandering

Unfortunately, it is a very common occurrence for seniors to become lost due to confusion or memory loss. Nearly every day in the press there are reports about elderly people who have gone missing. These episodes are almost invariably cases of people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about six of ten seniors with Alzheimer’s will exhibit signs of wandering. It’s important to note, though, that when seniors get lost it’s not always because of compulsive wandering. Instead, seniors with dementia often become lost while running errands, or during other some part of their everyday routine.

Lessons Learned from Recent Episodes

A quick look at recent news tells a recurring tale:
  • Today KUSA in Denver, Colorado reported that an elderly woman in the area became lost while driving to visit her husband at a nursing home. She didn’t show up and a bulletin was sent out. She finally turned up safe and sound at her house the next morning.
  • Yesterday the Ukiah Daily Journal reported about an elderly man with Alzheimer’s who was walking his dog near Ukiah, California and became lost. After an extensive but unsuccessful search, a six-year-old girl found him stuck in a thick brush. Rescuers eventually located the man with the girl’s help and is recovering at a local hospital.
  • On November 5th 82-year-old Henry Joseph Breslin, Jr. left his house and was reported missing from his residence in Chesterfield County, just outside of Richmond, Virginia. He returned the next day unharmed. According to the news report, “It wasn’t immediately clear where he had been.
  • On October 24th KOMO News reported Joan Coombes became lost in the Seattle area after taking a wrong turn while driving. After eventually reaching a dead end in a sparsely populated area, she walked away from her car. She was found by rescuers laying on the ground, motionless, and in a hypothermic condition. She has since recovered fully.
While each of these people survived their ordeal, missing seniors aren’t always found. Wandering can be life-threatening. For this reason, seniors with a propensity to become confused or disoriented, or who simply have very poor short-term memory, should be supervised in some way. While there are some technologies, such as shoes with GPS chips installed in them, which purport to help monitor elderly loved ones with dementia, there’s not really a perfect substitute for human help.

Let our care assessment guide you

Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

Early Warning Signs to Look Out For

The Alzheimer’s Association advises that families keep an eye out for these signs that a senior may be starting to wander. Seniors may be at risk of becoming missing when they:
  • Come back from walks or drives later than expected
  • Try to “fulfill former obligation” (for example, talks about or attempt to go to work long after retiring)
  • Tries to “go home” while already at home
  • Appears restless (for example, constant pacing)
  • Have difficulty navigating their own home
  • Frequently ask about friends or family who aren’t present or who are no longer living
  • Seem to be disoriented or confused in new environments

Talk with a Senior Care Advisor

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Memory Care Assisted Living

Many assisted living communities provide specialized, secure housing for people with dementia. In today’s communities this security is more often in the form of doors with alarms than a facility that’s literally “locked down”. Many memory care communities are purpose built to be comforting to people the dementia, to discourage wandering, or even to safely channel the urge to wander.

Evolving Technology Bridging Communications Gap for Seniors with Hearing Loss


Meet the Author
OurParents Staff

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