GETTING LOST IN THE COMMUNITY – WHY DO PEOPLE WITH DEMENTIA WANT TO WALK AWAY?

Harry was out to dinner with his family, and stood up saying he had to go to the bathroom. Soon it was noticed that Harry hadn’t returned. When a member of the family went to look for Harry they discovered he was no longer in the building. Two hours later, and after a search of the neighborhood, Harry was located wandering the neighborhood streets confused and unable to state why he had left the building. Harry has early dementia and had just walked away. Leaving a dinner party and even a restaurant unaccompanied is not a problem unless you are a child or are confused. Harry was confused, alone and quickly became lost in the community.

Current statistics tell us that about 60% of people with dementia will get lost in the community at some point. This includes people living in the community as well as those living in institutions.

Harry might not have been able to locate the restroom, or may have seen the exit and just thought to go home. Perhaps he used the restroom and then forgetting his family having dinner, just walked out the door. However it happened, after wandering the neighborhood for two hours, being tired and scared, he was not in condition once found to state what his actions were.

In this case, Harry was just confused and walked away. Many with dementia who become lost do so because they are actively trying to meet a social, emotional or physical need. As in the case of the woman who always feels her children are needing her, or the man who must get to his job.

Many years ago when Harry and his wife had young children, they had ID bracelets made for their children in case they would ever get lost. Now Harry is wearing his own ID bracelet for the very same reason.

The Alzheimer’s Association sponsors the  “Medic Alert – Safe Return” bracelet.  This  bracelet offers a 24 hour service, national data base and coordination of local support services. Well worth the price, in peace of mind.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing