Too often, I read about people with dementia who go missing. We have never lost my mom, but there have been times when we she was out of sight and a low-grade panic set in. Like when you suddenly realize you don’t know where your three-year-old is, losing sight of a dementia sufferer is just as frightening. Everything stops until you lay eyes on your loved one and see they’re alright.
This is a common tale for the dementia and Alzheimer’s sufferer who tend to wander. In fact, 6 in 10 people with dementia will wander for reasons that seem quite ordinary to them such as they are “going home,” or “to work,” or they are simply restless and need to GO, GO, GO!
My mom is secure in her Assisted Living Home. She is locked in with the key out of reach, and the backyard she enjoys is fenced with secure gates. And she is never out of sight when she goes on an outing. But should any of these measures fail, mom wears an ID Bracelet with ALZHEIMER’S engraved on one side and my dad’s phone number on the other.
Still, accidents happen and precautions can fail which has lead to a new resolution passed in 29 states called “Silver Alert” that’s like “Amber Alert,” but used for citizens with dementia. Based on what I’ve read about the number of Silver Alerts in individual states, plus the number of missing person reports I see each week, I would guess there are easily a thousand missing dementia sufferers each year in this country, if not more. I can’t find the number.
Think of it this way — like a very young child, the dementia sufferer is lost and doesn’t know their address, which direction to go, or how to cross the street. They are lost, afraid, and in eminent danger until they are found, which isn’t always the outcome. Acting quickly, and returning them home within 24-hours is crucial to their safety. But to hopefully avoid this situation, the Alzheimer’s Association has good information on keeping your loved one secure and safe in the first place, including:
- Having a routine and daily structure
- Identifying the times your loved one is most likely to wander
- Reassuring/Communicating to your loved that they are safe with you
- Ensuring basic needs are met
- Avoiding busy places
- Securing doors and fences
- Hiding car keys
- Having a back up plan such as an ID or MedicAlert Bracelet is also a good idea
Like a child discovering how to escape the crib, my mom might one day figure out how to get out of the backyard — and it can happen in a second. I believe I’ll be asking about that gate lock today.