Dementia, wandering and missing persons

Dementia is a loss of mental ability severe enough to interfere with the normal activities of daily living. People with dementia are at risk of wandering and getting lost.

Dementia is usually associated with people aged 64 and over, but people from their mid 40s can suffer from it.

Several diseases and conditions can result in dementia, with very similar behaviour patterns.

If a person suffering from dementia goes missing or wandering

  • Do not wait 24 hours. Call 111 immediately to report the person missing.
  • You will also need to file a report at a police station.

Visit your nearest police station.
See more about how to report a person missing.

  • Make sure someone is available to speak to Police when they arrive.
  • Be prepared to answer questions from Police and search teams, such as:
  • history of previous wandering
  • missing person's state of mind
  • the last three addresses that the missing person lived at
  • any registered wandering devices or bracelets
  • known frequented places.

How dementia affects behaviour

People with dementia are at risk of wandering and getting lost because they are disoriented, restless, agitated and possibly anxious. Once lost they are in danger of injury and even death from falls, accidents and exposure. The acute medical conditions associated with this illness compound the likelihood of serious negative outcomes. Disturbed sleep patterns can result in unexpected wandering at night.

Some dementia sufferers can believe they are looking for something (such as a familiar place, a familiar person or something to eat) or think they need to fulfil former obligations. This results in goal-driven wandering which can be industrious and purposeful, where the person is searching for something or someone.

Others may engage in random wandering, which can sometimes have no real purpose. They may be attracted by something initially then become quickly distracted by something else.

Tracking devices for wanderers

Tracking devices are issued by Police Search and Rescue (Police SAR) and by New Zealand Land Search & Rescue (LandSAR). They are for 'wanderers' who regularly go missing, such as some people with dementia.

The tracking devices are small pendants in the form of a necklace, belt attachment or watch, worn by the wandering person. Each pendant has its own individual frequency which can be tracked using direction finding equipment.

After they receive the tracking device, a person's details are entered into the Police National Intelligence application with an alert attached. When a person wearing the device goes missing, Police SAR will be notified immediately and the person tracked using the device. This has proved successful for both Police and families.

For more information contact any Police SAR coordinator through your nearest police station.