Senior Scene September 19, 2016

It is the “stuff” that nightmares are made of … when a person with dementia goes missing. Take a deep breath and try to stay as calm as you can even though it is not easy. You are not alone. Others are there to help you. Going through this checklist will help you bring the person with dementia home quickly and safely.

  1. Call the police – 911 – a search is an emergency so do not delay!
  • Immediately tell police that the person has dementia.
  • Try to get a sense of how long it has been since you last saw the person.
  • Give police the information you have assembled in the “Identification Kit” – including a recent photograph.
  • Let the police know about any medical conditions or medications the person is taking.
  • Tell the police where you think the person may go.
  • Let them know if the person is registered with any registry program such as MedicAlert® Safely Home®, Project Lifesaver® or has any identification or locating devices on them.
  1. Mobilize support
  • Make sure someone stays at home in case the person returns on their own.
  • Alert friends, family and neighbours that the person is missing.
  • If the person has a vehicle, tell police the vehicle information (license plate number, car model and make, and colour).
  • If credit cards may be used, talk with the police about informing the credit card companies that this person is missing and may use the cards. Tracking use of credit cards may help in locating the person.
  1. Do a quick search
  • Look inside the house: bedrooms, including closets and under the bed; bathroom(s); basement, including hidden spaces that are easy to get into; garage
  • See if any items such as luggage, car keys or credit cards are missing. These may provide clues as to their whereabouts.
  • Look outside around your house – only do this if you have an enclosed yard. If you live in a rural area, do not search on your own. You may endanger yourself and complicate the search for police.

Six in ten people with dementia become lost at some point, often without warning. The balance between independence and safety is a delicate one. While being lost is distressing and has the potential to be dangerous, having a safety plan can shorten the time spent in searching for a lost person with dementia and reduce the harm.

This safety plan may include the use of locating devices and enrolling with a registry such as MedicAlert® SafelyHome® or a vulnerable persons’ registry supported by your local police services or the OPP. There are benefits and draw backs to locating devices. Some people may consider the use of a device improves personal freedom and safety while giving caregivers peace of mind. Others may feel this is an invasion of privacy.

The types of locating devices vary and new technology appears on the market place daily. The methods of locating the individual vary with the devices.  Some rely on caregivers to receive a call or alert, prompting them to start a search.  Some use a computer, telephone, cell phone, call centre operator or directly contact police, and some send out an alert when a boundary is crossed (a predetermined, adjustable “geo-fence”).

For more information on all these programs and location devices, please call the local Alzheimer Society at 613-962-0892 or 1-800-361-8036.