Nov 30, 2018

Can an Alzheimer's Patient Wander and Die?

Alzheimer's patients often wander and get lost. This behavior can happen at any time or at any stage of the disease. Just because they have never wandered before, doesn't mean they won't do it in the future. Wandering can sometimes result in death.

The Alzheimer's Association estimates that 60 percent of persons living with Alzheimer's or a related dementia will wander.

Think about it - 6 out of 10.

I can assure you if your loved one wanders away, you cannot locate them, and they are lost to you, it can become one of the most horrible and terrifying experiences of your life.

Imagine your heart pounding, a sense of hopelessness, no idea what to do, a state of total confusion. I know what it feels like because it happened to me.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

When an Alzheimer's patient gets lost while wandering; and then, is found the caregiver or the family usually says,

Well, they never wandered before.

They are almost always unaware that statistics show that Alzheimer's and dementia patients are prone to wandering. How many Alzheimer's patients wander each Year? The best guesstimate is about 125,000.

Most cases of wandering never get reported.

Subscribe to the Alzheimer's Reading Room

What can happen. Consider these sobering statistics.

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

  • Of those lost more than 24 hours, only a third survive.

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

Sobering Statistics about Alzheimer's Wandering

Why do Alzheimer's Patients Wander?

There are a long list of reason why dementia patients wander. Two stick out.

First, Alzheimer's patients often want to go (get) home. Check out the video below for more information about this common Alzheimer's Patient behavior.

A second reason is because Alzheimer's patients often become disoriented. This sometimes happens because of a urinary tract infection. Urinary Tract Infection, You Can Learn From My Experience

For a more detailed list of reasons why dementia patients wander, check out this page. - Alzheimer's Wandering Why it Happens and What to do

How far can an Alzheimer's Patient wander? Pretty far.

Check out these 4 stories about long distance wandering.

This one happened in my neighborhood. A wonderful woman named Valarie goes missing. Her neighbors didn't bother to report her as lost, they just figured she was out somewhere. Later in the day she was found in Miami about 75 miles from home. She probably would have stopped when she got to Key West, but fortunately her car ran out of gas and a policeman came by.

Valerie was on her way to the grocery store which is about a mile from her home. She had been driving to the same grocery store for about 20 years. When I asked her neighbors if they had noticed anything wrong with Valerie, they said no. When I asked if they were worried about her driving episode, they said no. They just figured she was getting old.

The only time Valerie drove her car was to go to the doctor or go grocery shopping. it appeared to everyone around her that she was in good health.

A year later and after getting lost while driving Valerie was diagnosed with probable Alzheimer's disease. It finally dawned on her family that that she could no longer drive or live at home alone.


Holly cow. Philip Orvan Kneifl age 67 lived in Texas.

He decided to jump in his car and go visit his sister in Kansas. He was finally found in Mexico.

Four hundred miles into Mexico. What did his family say? They didn't think his dementia was so serious. Missing man with Alzheimer's Wanders into Mexico .


Another wild wandering story. A man living Alzheimer's goes missing in Denver. Three days later he is found in San Diego. It turns out he ran out of medication and went to the Veterans Administration to get some new medication. When they looked up his name in the computer he was tagged as missing.

As it turned out he was stationed in San Diego while in the navy. Which explains his final destination.

Distance from Denver to San Diego? About 1,078 miles.


This Alzheimer's patient got lost 3 times, all on the same trip. Judge Lombard was 75 years old, and it was no secret that he suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Judge gets on a bus from Las Vegas on his way to Detroit. The bus stops in Denver and Judge gets off and lost. The first time he was lost and then the found, a social worker put him in a cab and sent him back to the bus station. Did Judge get on the bus? No.

He started wandering around again. The second time Judge was lost for 11 days before he was found wandering around Denver. This time the police put him on a plane after contacting his wife. They gave the flight attendant specific instructions. The family was waiting at the airport when his flight arrived.

What happened next? His family didn't see him get off the plane. Judge was lost for the third time during one trip. Judge finally wandered into his home three days later.

When his family asked him where he was he told them "he was on a mission".

Carole Larkin wrote a detailed article with lots of suggestions on how to best prevent wandering.

Dementia patients often Wander - Try these tips to prevent wandering by your loved one

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

Please note: I did not include the stories of Alzheimer's Patients that wandered and die. I decided to include the statistics for wandering above instead.

Check out these Topics Pages from our Knowledge Base. Topics pages are designed to provide in depth knowledge to assist caregivers during the day.

Why do Alzheimer's patients stop ...?

My mom has dementia and is mean

How do you talk and communicate effectively with a dementia patient

Alzheimer's Tips

Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). Bob is a recognized expert, writer, speaker, and influencer in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Community worldwide.

The Award Winning Alzheimer’s Reading Room Knowledge Base is considered to be the highest quality, deepest collection, of information on Alzheimer’s and dementia in the world.

Ranked #1 by Healthline for 7 straight years (2012-2018).

Search Our Award Winning Knowledge Base for Answers to Your Questions About Alzheimer's and Dementia

Originally published in the Alzheimer's Reading Room