Each year about 60 percent of the four million Americans living with Alzheimer’s wander away from their homes or caregivers and become lost. Most are found within 1.5 miles of home. However, because of the paranoia common in people with the disease, many hide and refuse to respond to calls from rescuers.
Given the fragile health of people with Alzheimer’s, wandering can be fatal. In fact, experts warn that if a person isn’t located within 24 hours, the likelihood of death from exposure and/or injuries is as high as 50 percent.
Steps to take to keep your parent safe:
If your parent has Alzheimer’s and habitually wanders, the first thing you have to do is make sure he or she is never left unattended.
Sign up with the Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return Program. With this program, your parent wears a medic-alert bracelet that reads: “Memory Impaired.” It also includes a toll-free number to call, should your parent be found wandering, as well as an ID number, which feeds into a national database. Responders contact local law enforcement and fax them your parent’s photograph. Someone from the local Alzheimer’s Association will provide you with emotional support and assistance while police conduct the search and rescue. There is a $40 registration fee. Give them a call at 1.888.572.8566 or go to their website at alz.org/SafeReturn.
Let your parent’s neighbors know about his/her condition and ask them to phone you or the police if they see your parent out alone and wandering.
Meet with local police and give them a recent photo of your parent and any information that would help prevent your parent from being afraid of responders when they approach him or her during search and rescue.
Position locks on doors out of your parent’s sight – either very high or very low. Consider covering the door with a poster, painting or mural so it doesn’t give the behavioral cue to exit. You could also install an alarm on all exit doors to alert you when your parent leaves the house.
Write your parent’s name in his or her clothing. Also, take something your parent has worn and place it in a plastic bag to aid in search and rescue operations that use dogs to track missing people.
Find out if your state has a Project Lifesaver program, in which radio technology and specially trained search and rescue teams are used to recover persons with Alzheimer’s or autism. Participants wear wristbands that emit a tracking signal. To learn more, call 1.877.580.LIFE (1.877.580.5433) or visit their website at projectlifesaver.org. Individuals pay about $30 per month for this service.