Our January, 2014 edition of Elder Voice focussed on elopement and wandering. In that edition we discussed what it is, why it happens, and how to guard against it. Recently we attended a seminar put on by the Burnaby (B.C.) Crime Prevention unit that provided more helpful information on this issue. In the session, the RCMP Constable discussed the information police would need if someone is missing. The Coquitlam Search and Rescue team members also described some characteristics of people with dementia who go missing. We thought Elder Voice should pass this information on to our readers.
To review, wandering or elopement is the term used to describe the event of an individual leaving a place when it is feared they will not be able to find their way back. It is estimated that 60% of people with dementia will wander sometime in the course of their disease. It is important to remember that quite often, the person who is “wandering” actually believes their actions have a purpose. In their mind they may be “out for a walk,” going somewhere, they are feeling agitated or upset, or they are looking for someone or something. In their mind they may be in a time or place from long ago.
Unfortunately, if the individual is not found within 24 hours there is a 25% fatality rate. For this reason, if a loved one with dementia does go missing, the RCMP urges you to report it to the police as soon as possible. It is better to find them and have to cancel the alert than to waste precious minutes when a person could get further and further away.
Here is some information about people with dementia who wander:
- They will travel in a straight line until they get stuck.
- They appear to lack the ability to turn around.
- They follow unpredictable travel patterns, even though the path is straight.
- They may seek out past places or work, residences, or people they have known or know.
- They tend to be within 2.5 kilometers from home.
- They will walk along roads.
- They may go into structures such as a shed.
- Generally they will be mobile for less than one hour
- Since they do not think of themselves as missing, they may not respond to their name being called.
- Wanderers frequently go in the direction of their dominant hand.
The police will want to know:
- As accurate a description as possible. This includes any scars or other identifying characteristics. It is a good idea to have a recent picture available. Take one every few months, or maybe a few from different angles.
- What were they wearing when they were last seen?
- Any medical issues which might be important. For instance might they need diabetes or heart medication? Do they have a history of seizures or cardiac arrest?
- If they have ever wandered off before, and if so, where did they go and how were they found?
- Impairments that might make it difficult for them to respond when called such as impaired vision or hearing.
- A description of their personality: how would they react to hearing their name called? Are they easily frightened? Would they hide?
- What was happening when they were last seen? Were they upset about something?
- Have they been talking about a past place or person, or workplace? If so, that might give a clue as to where they might have tried to go.
- Who do they associate with–names of friends or relatives that they might be looking for who are involved with them?
- Things they like to do, or places they enjoy. For instance, do they like to walk in the woods? Are they accustomed to or do they like to take the bus somewhere?
- Do they have any locating devices on them normally such as a cell phone or anything else with GPS capabilities?
- If you have any monitoring equipment in the place where they were last seen, review it and let the police know what you discover about the person’s leaving–what door did they leave by, for instance, or did they go down the walk, or across the lawn or street?
- Would they have been carrying a wallet or purse with some money or a credit card that they would be able to use?
- What is their mobility like? Do they have poor balance? Are they prone to falls? Do they use a walker or a cane and did they take it with them?
- Are they left handed or right handed?
Be sure to keep all of this information in an easily accessible place.
In reporting someone missing, the police will want contact details for you and any other family member. They will also ask you to designate one person as their contact. If you are going to organize a search yourself, discuss it with the police.
To read more about wandering and elopement, please read Elder Voice of January, 2014
Keeping Them Safe: Products and Programmes for People Who Might Go Missing
Keeping Them Safe: Products and
Programmes for People Who Might Go Missing
There are several devices and programmes now available to help keep track of someone with cognitive impairment. While we do not endorse one over the other, we list some below and recommend that you consider a few issues:
- Is there a “fence” component so that if someone leaves a designated area, the device will alert you or a monitoring station.
- Will your loved one actually wear it and if they do, will they keep it on or take it off? Several of these devices below are watch like devices or pendants. It will not do you any good if the person has taken it off. Make sure it is comfortable.
- Is there a way to hide it of make it part of clothing or fit into the purse or wallet that the person always keeps with them?
- Be mindful of how you introduce it. “Dad, look, I bought you a new watch!” might have a better outcome than, ” I bought this in case you get lost.”
Check these out:
We often recommend a cell phone such as iphone with a “find my phone” feature. Even though the person may not know how to use the phone , they may recognize it as something familiar and keep it in their purse or pocket.