Elderly missing persons
The elderly, particularly those living with dementia, are one of the groups in our community most at risk of going missing. As people age, mental and physical health issues can force them to become more isolated from family and friends, which can put the elderly at a greater risk of becoming a missing person.
The link between dementia and missing persons
Dementia is the term used to describe the symptoms of a group of illnesses which cause a progressive decline in a person’s mental functioning. It is a broad term, which describes the loss of memory, intellect, rationality, social skills and normal emotional reactions.
Symptoms that may cause someone to go missing include forgetting well-known people or places, an inability to process questions or instructions, and emotional unpredictability.
Wandering is quite common among people living with dementia. The person's failing memory and declining ability to communicate can make it impossible for them to remember, explain the reason they wandered, or how to get home. The greatest risk associated with wandering is that a person with dementia leaves the safety of their home unaccompanied, gets lost and goes missing.
The rate of moderate to severe dementia among Australians is one in 15 people over the age of 65. As our population ages, people who are at risk of going missing as a result of dementia is a growing concern.
What can I do to help?
If you care for a person living with dementia that may be at risk of wandering and going missing, consider whether registration in a safe return program, an ID bracelet, or other means of identification may be suited to your situation.
Alzheimer's Australia - Safely Home Initiative
Safely Home programs can help people living with dementia walk safely by providing rapid and accurate identification if they get lost. These programs are just one way to enable people living with dementia to remain living at home for longer. It provides peace of mind that if someone does go missing, there is a way for them to be easily identified.
The ability for police to quickly locate contact details for carers of missing Alzheimer’s patients will greatly reduce the stress placed on families and the persons themselves. In all states, the Safely Home Initiative is delivered in partnership between Alzheimer's Australia and Police and comes in several different forms i.e. medical alert bracelets and GPS devices in watches and shoes etc. Carers can also use safe return programs to instigate a search for the person with dementia by contacting their local police station and filing a missing persons report. The police initiate a search using information on the database.
Please contact Alzheimer's Australia in your state through the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 to find out more about the Safely Home Initiative in your area.
In NSW, Safely Home provides a personalised stainless steel bracelet, designed to be worn at all times by the person with dementia. The bracelet features a toll free telephone number and personal identification number. The personal identification number is recorded in the State police's 'Safely Home' database. The database is accessible by Police 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It includes a detailed description of the person with dementia, photo, contact information, previous residential addresses and locations the person may visit. All details on the database are confidential.
When someone finds the missing person, they can simply look at the bracelet, telephone the police and quote the personal identification number. The police then make arrangements for the person to be returned safely home.
For more information on Dementia and Missing Persons, please view the following NMPCC factsheets:
- Missing persons and dementia fact sheet
- Missing persons and dementia: Safer Walking
- Missing persons and dementia: Wandering
For more information on Alzheimer's and Dementia contact:
Alzheimer's Australia or call the dementia helpline on: 1800 100 500.