AFA Report Focuses on Alzheimer’s Wandering and What Caregivers Can Do About It

  • According to an Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) report, most people with Alzheimer’s disease who wander are found in close proximity of their home. That being said, it’s essential that people who wander be found quickly, since confusion or poor judgment could cause them to walk into traffic, enter a dangerous construction site, or simply become increasingly disoriented, confused and frightened.


    The AFA report titled “Lost and…Found: A Review of Available Methods and Technologies to Aid Law Enforcement in Locating Missing Adults with Dementia,” was funded by Project Lifesaver International, a nonprofit organization based in Chesapeake, VA, through a grant from the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

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     According to the report, missing incidents are “a serious and costly public safety problem for law enforcement that will only get worse as this disease invades more lives.” 


    The AFA report also concludes that:    

    • An estimated 60 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease will wander at some point during the progression of the brain disorder. Half of those who wander will become lost or separated from a loved one.
    • Up to 61 percent of people who become lost will suffer serious injury or death if not found within 24 hours.
    • The report says that search and rescue operations cost taxpayers an estimated $1,500 per hour and average nine hours, according to Project Lifesaver, which utilizes a rapid response system in conjunction with law enforcement to locate missing persons with Alzheimer’s disease, autism or other impairments. 

    Programs that can alert the public

    One resource that combines wearable identification with 24-hour nationwide assistance is the Alzheimer’s Association’s MedicAlert® + Safe Return® program.

    Enrolling someone with dementia in the program requires providing personal information about the person which could prove essential to the search and rescue effort. If the individual with dementia becomes lost, a caregiver, concerned citizen, or a member of law enforcement can call the toll-free emergency response number on the bracelet and report the incident. This will activate a community support network, which includes local Alzheimer’s Association chapters and law enforcement agencies to help in the search for the individual.


    The National Silver Alert Program provides a free, engraved bracelet and free registration for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. When people with dementia are registered, personal information is gathered that can help identify them if they are lost. The bracelet is engraved with the emergency phone number to call. Once a call is received, a Silver Alert message is sent out to media and law enforcement, much like the Amber Alert works for missing children. Unfortunately, states vary as to what criteria warrants an alert. There have been efforts since 2008 to make the Silver Alert a national program, but according to the AFA, Congress has yet to approve the funding.


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    Technology-Assisted Rapid Response Programs

    The AFA report gives examples of technological advances that can help locate someone with dementia if the person is wearing some type of GPS or radio signal device. There are competing products on the market, with some basic differences. Your choice of technology may be influenced by your location.

    Whether a caregiver provides a passive device or an active one using a type of technology that can trace the person who is lost, none of it will work if people with dementia aren’t wearing the jewelry or device that helps track them. Since dementia does not influence a person’s intelligence, families must remember that their loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia may figure out how to remove the device. The AFA report suggests that people look for devices labeled “hard to take off.”


    Awareness is essential

    It’s essential that caregivers realize that while their loved one with Alzheimer’s disease may not have wandered yet, the possibility is always present. Therefore, careful planning and supervision is important once the disease progression includes a heightened risk of wondering. That time is different for everyone who has dementia.


    Please read the full AFA report for much more information.

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Published On: July 22, 2012