Feb 19, 2012

R.I.P. John Garrett

Authorities find body of missing Peoria man with Alzheimer's disease

Authorities have found the body of a 73-year-old central Illinois man who had been missing for more than a week.

Search crews had been looking for John Garrett of Peoria for a week. He had Alzheimer's disease and had last been seen near a park. Authorities say he had wondered form his home while his wife was napping.

The (Peoria) Journal Star reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/yM8GA3 ) that his body was found about 9:45 a.m. Sunday near the entrance of Jubilee College State Park.

Hundreds of volunteers helped search for Garrett.

Alzheimer's and Wandering

When a person suffering from Alzheimer's disease wanders away they are at risk. They can die. Of those lost more than 72 hours, only 20 percent survive.

How many Alzheimer's patients wander each year? How many are found? How many die from exposure or in accidents?

Here is an educated guess -- around 125,000 persons suffering from Alzheimer's disease wander away each year.

Is it possible that more than 300 Alzheimer's sufferers wander and/or get lost each day? That is an enormous amount of risk. Could it happen to you?

Current statistics indicate that about 60 percent of persons suffering from Alzheimer's will wander. This makes the potential pool of wanderers around 3,000,000 individuals.

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

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 don't make it home alive.
  • Of those lost more than 24 hours, only a third survive. Think about it. 67 out of 100 don't survive.
  • Of those lost more than 72 hours, only 20 percent survive. 80 percent never make it home alive.


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 the minutes flew by, I was 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 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. Was I alarmed once she returned home -- 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?


Most Alzheimer's sufferers that wander are 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.

Are you worried about wandering? Not yet?

Go read this hair raising story that was written by our reader Donna -- My Dad Missing and Found.

Also see: Alzheimer's Wandering Why it Happens and What to do.