Dec 19, 2009

Sobering Statistics about Alzheimer's Wandering

How many people suffering from Alzheimer's wander each day? How many are found? How many die?

How many Alzheimer's or dementia patients wander each year?

Learning How to Communicate with Someone Suffering From Alzheimer's Disease

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Here are some educated guesstimates --
  • around 125,000 in a year.

As far as I can tell, there are only about 30,000 reported cases in a year. No matter how you count, this should be sobering thought to Alzheimer's caregivers.

Current statistics indicate that about 60 percent of persons living with Alzheimer's will wander.

This makes the potential pool around 3,000,000 individuals.

It is likely that only a small fraction of those that do wander get reported.

My guess is that many who wander don't get far. As a result, they are found quickly and only locale residents get involved.

But what about those that don't get found quickly?

Of those found within 12 hours, 93 percent survive. Seven percent don't.

So, about one in 14 in this category don't make it home alive.

Of those lost more than 24 hours, only a third survive. That is a sobering statistic.

Of those lost more than 72 hours, only 20 percent survive. One in five. Sobering.


Once, while I was living in New York, my mother said she was going to the store to buy some lottery tickets. When she didn't return after more than an hour, my heart started pumping. I started to worry.

I went outside looked around and started thinking about what I could do. To be honest, I was stumped. If I called the police would they help, or would they tell me it was too soon to take action?

What were the odds that if I started walking around looking for her that I would find her? Even if I decided to start looking for her, where would I look first? Did she take a key with her when she went out? I didn't think she did (she didn't).

As another hour went by I was getting ready to panic. Should I call the hospital? Police?

Magically there she was walking down the street. I asked her, where were you? She told me she went and got a cup of coffee and then a manicure. I shrugged and told her she needed to tell me me where she was going when she went out.

This all happened at least two years before my mother was officially diagnosed with dementia. I am now convinced that she did get lost. Can I prove it? No.

I can tell you this, she was starting to scrape her feet on the ground. A tell tale sign that I believe is one of the most important signs of mild cognitive impairment or the early onset of dementia.

I remember when this happened my heart was beating fast. I remember being in a total state of confusion -- what should I do? What was I going to do if she didn't show up? I felt helpless.

I wonder what it is like when a person suffering Alzheimer's goes missing? I really can't imagine what it must feel like. Or can I?


For at least a couple of years my mother kept saying over and over -- let's move back to south Philadelphia. My mother was born in south Philadelphia. When my mother would say this, I would be stupefied. This was before I got my brain hooked on Alzheimer's.

At the time my mother was saying this, she had lived in Florida for over 25 years, and it was more than 50 years since she had last lived in south Philadelphia.

Later on I learned that people suffering from Alzheimer's want to go back -- back home. It doesn't matter if they are at home. They yearn to go home.

I get email all the time from readers telling me they are being driven nuts because their loved one wants to go home.

A word to the wise is sufficient. When they start saying this get your eyes and ears open. They might decided to try and make it home on their own -- they are ready to wander.


Most Alzheimer's sufferers that wander get found within a mile and a half of their home. These wanderers are often on foot. Nevertheless, finding them is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

When they wander they rarely ask for help. They don't tell anyone they are lost. They don't responds to shouts (people shouting their name). And in most cases, they don't leave any physical clues that will help you find them.

It just amazes me that someone suffering from Alzheimer's can wander off and become invisible.

It happens.


I just wrote a good example of how hard it is to find someone with Alzheimer's that wanders away -- Elderly Woman with Dementia Found after Wandering Around All Night.

In Frederick, Maryland, a woman suffering from Alzheimer's wandered away from her home. The police organized a posse of 50-60 police and civilians to look for her. They also had four civilian K-9 search and rescue groups looking for her. After about 10 hours, they finally found her huddled up against a piece of plywood. The temperature was under 30 degrees.

This might amaze you. They found her on a property adjacent to her home. In an area that had been searched several times. The only thing I can conclude is that she was walking around and 60 people and 4 dogs couldn't find her until she finally settled down in one spot. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Think about this. This was a wonderfully well organized effort by the Frederick police department and it still took ten hours to find a person that was probably never far from home.

Go figure.


Now to my point.

We are now in the holiday season. Ever get the urge to go home for the Holidays? Wander?

Last night, I put on the movie Rocky. When Rocky was running down Ninth Street, the market area in south Philadelphia, I said look mom south Philly. She looked up and said, let's move back to south Philly. First time she said that in years.

UH OH, I better keep my eyes and ears open. She might get the urge to go back home. She might decide to go for it.

I'll keep a close eye on my needle in the haystack during this holiday season, I hope you will too.

Related Articles

What is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

How to Test Your Memory for Alzheimer's and Dementia (5 Best Tests)

Communicating in Alzheimer's World

Alzheimer's World -- Two Circles Trying to Intersect

The Frightened, Angry, Anxious, Mean Dementia Patient

My Mother Living with Alzheimer's Wandered, and I was the one that was "scared to death"

13 Things Every Alzheimer's Caregiver Needs to Know

Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The ARR knowledge base contains more than 5,000 articles. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.

Originally published in the Alzheimer's Reading Room