Dementia/cognitive impairment and other conditions of cognitive impairment

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

If a person suffering from dementia/cognitive impairment 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/cognitive impairment affects behaviour

People with dementia/cognitive impairment 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 these conditions compound the likelihood of serious negative outcomes. Disturbed sleep patterns can result in unexpected wandering at night.

Some dementia/cognitive impairment 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.

Safer Walking / Wander Search

WanderSearch is a system within the Safer Walking framework that is made up of a radio frequency (RF) device that people who are at risk of going missing wear. The tracking devices are small pendants in the form of a necklace, belt attachment or watch, worn by the wandering person. Police and LandSAR Volunteers throughout New Zealand use search equipment designed to detect these devices to assist them locate the missing person in the speediest manner possible. LandSAR works in partnership with all the Wander Search groups to provide guidance, support and training throughout New Zealand.

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. You can also find further information on the Wander Search New Zealand website.

How to help Police, the Safer Walking Profile

The Safer Walking Profile is a risk reduction tool designed for anyone who is at risk of going missing when walking. It is a form that contains vital information about the person at risk which can be given to the police at the time the person is reported missing.

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.

Safer Walking Profile form


Safer Walking Profile FAQs

Who decides who is at risk?

Who completes the form?

When should the form be completed?

When should the form be sent to the police?

Where should the form be stored?

Printed or electronic form?

What should a care provider do if the person goes missing?