What To Do When Your Loved One Wanders

Individuals with Alzheimer’s or other dementia can lose their ability to recognize familiar places and people. It’s not uncommon for a person with Alzheimer’s to become confused about their location or wander off, even in the early stages.

Wandering behavior can be dangerous – even life-threatening – and they might not even realize they are putting themselves in harm’s way. Every minute counts when it comes down to finding your loved one, and there are resources that can help you in the event of an emergency.

With the help of our local Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue, we’ve put together crucial information and tips on how to keep your loved one safe and what to do if they wander off.

What to do When Your Loved One Goes Missing

The first 24 hours after someone goes missing is crucial in bringing them home safely. Time is of the essence, and when someone has dementia, there’s not often a rhyme or reason for their movement. If your loved one goes missing:

  • Do not spend more than 10 minutes looking for them before calling 911
  • Inform dispatch this person has Alzheimer’s or dementia

Important Information to Have on Hand

Giving as much relevant information to the 911 operator can aid in deploying local resources faster. It’s very important to mention they are living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia right away. Some information to have ready in case of an emergency include:

  • Have they wandered before? If so, where were they found?
  • Do they take the bus or other public transportation?
  • Have a list of medical conditions and medications they are on
  • Where and when were they last seen? What were they last seen wearing?
  • Do they have any distinguishing characteristics? (tattoos, hair color, use a walker, etc.)
  • Do they use cash or cards? (If they use their card, it can give clues to their recent whereabouts)
  • Have a current and close-up photo that you can share with law enforcement, searchers, and the community.

Additional Considerations

Check security camera footage (such as a Ring camera): Check any security camera footage and ask neighbors if they have any security footage they can share. This can potentially provide information about where they were headed, what they were wearing, if they were on foot or took a vehicle, etc.

Cell phone number and carrier: In Search and Rescue efforts, law enforcement can ping a phone immediately without a warrant to try and find the location of the missing person, which can be life-saving. 

Notify neighbors: Call and notify your neighbors. The individual could be headed toward a neighbor’s house or wandering nearby. The more eyes on the lookout, the better. 

Have someone remain at the house: It’s important for someone to remain at the place of residence in case the individual returns. If Search and Rescue is responding, they may also need to come by to get a scent item for K9 teams. 

Community Alerts

Historically, after someone goes missing, these three notifications have proven extremely beneficial in finding the missing person quickly. 

1. Social Media Alerts: Send information to your neighborhood social group or neighborhood watch group, and share it on your personal social media pages, if you are comfortable. Ask others to share your post information, as well. Oftentimes, law enforcement will share an alert on their social media pages to create as much awareness as possible.

2. Community Transit & Buses: Many counties have a contract with local transit and can check with buses and their drivers. Information about the missing individual will be sent to the community transit supervisor, and that will be relayed to the individual bus drivers. 

3. Hospital notifications:  if there is a significant amount of time that your loved one has been missing, they may have been checked into a hospital the for something. You can call local hospitals and provide their name and date of birth to check for any recent admissions.

Silver Alerts

A silver alert is similar to an endangers missing person advisory, except the missing person has to be 60 years or older and in danger because of age, physical or mental health, severe weather conditions or not able to return to safety without assistance.

You’ve likely seen silver alerts issued through text, email, the Department of Transportation highway signs, and social media. Silver alerts can be a great way to get information out about a missing individual to the masses, but in order to have a silver alert issued, the individual must be driving a car.

Search & Rescue Response

In counties across Washington, there are hundreds of Search and Rescue volunteers who donate their time to help look for lost individuals. These teams consist of ground searchers, k9 teams, 4×4 teams, swift water teams, mountain rescue, and more. 

After the call is received, the patrol deputy or officer will respond to the home of the family to gather initial information and may page the on-call Search and Rescue coordinator if extra assistance is needed from the local Search and Rescue. Search and Rescue deployed in a variety of areas, from mountainous terrain to urban searches.

Safety Precautions & Care

As the disease progresses, the risk for wandering increases, but there are steps you can take to help prevent wandering. As individuals with dementia begin to exhibit signs of wandering, caregivers might want to consider ways to keep a closer eye on them. There are simple things you can do to help increase their safety while allowing them to maintain and enjoy their independence.

1. In-home sensory security system: There are a number of monitoring services that can be installed to fit your personal needs. These systems can be installed to detect motion, the opening of doors and windows, breaking glass, bed or chair occupancy, and more.

2. Security Cameras: Home security cameras, such as a Ring doorbell, can help you monitor if and when someone leaves the property. It can also provide information on what the individual was wearing, what time they left, and what direction they may have been headed.

3. Location Trackers: Location devices that use GPS tracking aid in helping find a missing person quickly, which can be life-saving. These devices are offered as bracelets, watches, keyring tags, shoe insoles, and more. You just have to find what services fit your needs and what items your loved one is willing to wear or carry. Also, be sure to research if there are available resources through your local sheriff’s office or if your insurance will help cover location devices.

Though we can’t necessarily prevent our loved ones from ever wandering, we can help increase their safety by making a plan. By asking questions and making a plan, we can do everything in our power to be ready in case of an emergency. Remember, do not wait more than 10 minutes before calling 911 after your loved one goes missing.

You can find more information about risk factors and prevention from the Alzheimer’s Association here.

Leave a Reply