My Family Member With Dementia Got Lost. Will It Happen Again?

Someone in your family has dementia. They recently wandered away from home and no one could find them. At the time, you panicked, but fortunately everything turned out all right. Someone found them safe and sound. No harm done. They got a little disoriented, that’s all.

You try to put the incident behind you, but you wonder: Will it might happen again? And if it does, will things turn out as well?

Going missing is an emergency

As a matter of fact, you’re right to be concerned. Half of the people with dementia-related memory problems who go missing for more than twenty-four hours end up seriously injured or die. That’s why it’s vital that you call 911 immediately if someone you know with dementia goes missing.

Make a plan

So, how can you keep your family member safe without unduly limiting their independence?

The first step is to acknowledge the risk. The next is to come up with a plan.

Alzheimer Society Ontario has a program called Finding Your Way® designed to help you do just that. It provides tips on how to support a person with dementia so that they can continue to live safe, active, and engaged lives while reducing the risk of them becoming lost. It also tells you how to respond if the person still goes missing despite your best efforts.

Resource materials are available in several languages. They include tips on home safety, sleeping habits, staying social, staying active, driving, travel, medication, nutrition and food, as well as living alone. The program website also discusses locating technology and provides a link to a list of products on the market.

The resource guide also includes tools to help you create a safety plan that you can activate should the person go missing. In such an emergency, you don’t want to be scrambling to look for critical information. Time is critical.

A safety plan can include

  • An incident response checklist that tells you what steps to follow in an emergency

  • An identification kit that contains essential information about the person that will help police locate them

  • A post-incident checklist that offers advice on what to do when you’re reunited with the person

Be proactive

Don’t wait for the person to go missing again. In fact, if someone in your family has dementia and has never been lost before, it’s still important to be prepared. That’s because six out of ten people with dementia go missing at some point. It can happen without warning, even among people with early-stage dementia who seem to be coping well.

When the risk increases

For some people with dementia, the risk of going missing can increase over time. If you’re losing sleep, worrying that your parent or spouse may wander off unexpectedly in the middle of the night (or even during the middle of the day), it may be time to consider a different living arrangement. Reaching this point can be overwhelming.

At Tea and Toast, we’ve supported many families facing similar circumstances. We can help you explore different options available in the Ottawa area, including memory care.