There have been many cases of people with dementia wandering and going missing. New research recommends we put in place alert systems.
This tendency to wander is the subject of new research out of the Australian Dementia Centre for Research Collaboration, based at QUT. Researchers are recommending a ‘Silver Alert’ system, similar to Amber Alerts for missing children, be activated when someone with the diagnosis of dementia is reported lost.
The researchers examined news articles between 2011 and 2015 to reveal 130 missing person cases involving people with dementia. Of these, only 71 per cent were reported as being found and of those, 20 per cent were injured and another 20 per cent or 19 people were deceased.
Lead researcher Dr Margie MacAndrew said although there was an argument for the health benefits of wandering, including exercise and social interaction, it can be a risky behaviour when it went beyond safe limits.
“Characteristics of risky wandering include frequent and repetitive walking without resting which can be very tiring.”
“Wandering can result in potentially life-threatening outcomes such as malnutrition, increased risk of falls, injury, exhaustion, hypothermia, becoming lost and death.”
“Not all people with dementia who wander become lost but they are much more likely to than their peers who do not have dementia”.
Dr MacAndrew added that those identified from research as most vulnerable to becoming lost included those with disturbed sleep, extroverted personalities, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or those with more advanced dementia.
She notes that a ‘Silver Alert’ system is now in operation in 18 US states so that when a person with dementia/cognitive impairment is reported as being lost media outlets, law enforcement units and departments of transport are involved to spread the message.
“In our study, most people were found within five km of the place from which they went missing although one person managed to travel 800km. However, like the US, most of those found dead were very close to home.
“The findings suggest that people living independently in the community, along with those in aged care facilities, may need to undergo routine assessment to identity risk of wandering and the negative outcomes associated with it.
“We also recommend current approaches to coordinating a search and rescue attempt should include, careful searching in the immediate vicinity the person was last seen, particularly outbuildings and garden areas, should be given priority.”