When seniors with dementia wander off without warning, it can be a frightening experience for their family and caregivers. In fact, as many as three out of every five people with dementia will go missing at some point.

Now, the Alzheimer Society of Ontario is launching a new wandering prevention program that’s aimed at educating caregivers about what to do when a loved one wanders –- and how to prevent it from happening in the first place.

The program is called “Finding Your Way” and is being funded in part by the Ontario government. One aspect of the program offers tips on creating safety kits for dementia patients. The kits are designed to help caregivers members create personalized plans for what to do if their loved one goes missing. The kit includes:

  • an identification kit with space for a recent photo and physical description that can be shared with police in an emergency
  • at-home safety steps to help prevent missing incidents from occurring
  • steps to safeguard a person with dementia, such as using an alarm system
  • tips on what to do when a person with dementia goes missing and when reuniting after a wandering incident 
  • information on locating and alarm devices

Gale Carey, the CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Ontario, says there’s a great need for the program, given that the number of people living with dementia on the rise.

“Currently, there are about 200,000 people in Ontario over the age of 65 with dementia. That’s about one in 10 in that age group. We know by 2020, that number will reach a quarter of a million,” she told CTV’s Canada AM Thursday.

“Research tells us that 60 per cent of people with dementia will have a ‘missing’ incident at some point in their illness.”

Brent Thomlison, with the Waterloo Regional Police and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, says his group supports the action plan.

He says when people with dementia go missing, police view it as an emergency. That’s because research shows that half of people with dementia who go missing for 24 hours or more end up either seriously injured or dead.

“The identification information contained within the Finding Your Way kits is exactly the kind of information that police need to speed up the search process,” he said in a statement.

Carey says another aspect of the program will include public TV, radio, print service messages that will appear not only in English and French, but also in Mandarin, Cantonese and Punjabi.

“We hope to reach out to ethno-cultural communities where maybe the stigma about dementia might be stronger than it might be in other cultures,” she says.

The service messages are aimed at educating police and members of the public about what to do they find a senior who is lost. As well, they provide tips for spotting a senior who might have dementia and may have gotten lost. Those signs include:

  • Not dressing for the weather
  • Standing still, looking around for a long period of time
  • Pacing, looking confused or disoriented
  • Repeating the same question within a short period of time