5 traits that Alzheimer’s patients share when they become lost

Robert J. Koester, a U.S. search and rescue expert from Virginia spoke with Stephen Quinn on CBC Radio and explained that people with Alzheimer’s can be the hardest people to find and sadly 22 per cent of the missing cases end with the patient being found dead. 

Koester said that he has identified patterns though, that can help track them. 

“1. They’ll go until they get stuck
“It’s probably counter-intuitive that they go into some of the thickest, nastiest brush or briars,” Koester said. An area of thick brush that other people will avoid isn’t as much of a barrier, if you can remember the easier terrain you just passed through.  He said persons with severe cases of dementia will head out an exit door, keep going until a barrier or a bend in the road redirects them and, if not found soon enough, they will eventually head off into the brush or into a water feature, where they get stuck, and stay. They do not seem to have the ability to turn around and keep moving forward.
2. Water can be a draw
After fighting through brush and trees and other obstacles, some dementia patients will find a welcome relief when a pond, lake, stream, or river opens up in front of them: “My guess is, maybe finally they thought it was a flat place, like a nice sidewalk, to walk.  I don’t even know if they perceive water for what it is,” Koester said.
3. Searchers may be ignored, or avoided
“They tend not to respond to searchers’ shouts,” he said. “They’re living so much in the present, they can watch a search team walk right by them.”
4. Look to the past
Patients will try to find their way around a neighborhood thinking they are in a different location from their past.
5. Each case is unique, but always the same
“If you’ve met one dementia subject, you’ve met one dementia subject,” Koester said.
Koester says the dementia patient is making all of his or her decisions based on what they can see right in front of them.

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Jerrie Dean, who is retired from Federal Law Enforcement, is the Founder of Missing Persons of America.

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