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"Alzheimer's is 24/7, it doesn't sleep" | Here's how to prevent people with dementia from wandering away

There are many tactics, technology and resources available to families to prevent wandering. It's best to be prepared just in case.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Three men with Alzheimer's went missing in Tennessee this week, prompting Silver Alerts across the state. While losing track of a loved one is scary, there are ways families can be prepared to prevent that heartbreaking situation from happening.

"No one thinks that this is the day that their loved one is going to go missing," said Kay Watson with Alzheimer's Tennessee.

Wandering is fairly common with dementia and Alzheimer's patients. Officials said that 6 out of 10 people have the potential to wander away at some point.

Alzheimer's Tennessee said around 120,000 Tennesseans are living with Alzheimer's and dementia. That's enough to pack Neyland Stadium full and then some.

That means 72,000 people with dementia have the potential to wander away and get lost.

"What we can do is try as best we can to prepare for that problem," Watson said.

There are a lot of different ways to do that:

  • Secure the home. Place deadbolts strategically high and out of sight, use night lights, install bells above the doors, place pressure mats for doors and camouflage the doors by painting the doors the same colors as the wall. Alzheimer's Tennessee has an Alzheimer’s Safety Solution Guide handbook detailing the steps.
  • Place GPS devices in a shoe or on an item to monitor the individual’s location.
  • Look for changes in behaviors, like sundowning. More information on sundowning can be found at www.alzTennessee.org/academy
  • Plan exercise opportunities for the individual.
  • Do not leave the individual alone in a car or house.

"There are all kinds of camera systems that can be set up in the home, and there are wandering alert services that are available at relatively low cost," Amy French with the Alzheimer's Association said.

The Knox County CAC Office on Aging also offers adult day care programs.

"These are individuals that have taken care of us, first of all, and so we want to make sure that they're taken care of as well," said Dottie Lyvers with the Office on Aging.

There are also GPS and Medic Alert jewelry families can put on people diagnosed with dementia. They can also fill out a missing person profile form right now, just in case they end up missing. That way, police will have immediate access to updated information about them. Don't forget to get an up-to-date picture of your loved one too!

"Fill out a form so that while you're calm and you're able to think rationally and can answer lots of questions. So this is available for you and your family, you tell everyone where it is," Watson said.

If you're not sure where to turn there are resources always available to help.

"Alzheimer's is 24/7, it doesn't sleep," French said.

You can call the Alzheimer's Association's free 24/7 Helpline at 1 (800) 272-3900 at any time of day or night. Clinicians can offer advice, connect folks with local resources or just be a listening ear on a hard day. You can also go to alz.org for national and local resources.

You can also call the Alzheimer's Tennessee 24/7 helpline at 1 (800) 259-4283 or visit alztennessee.org for resources. There are multiple videos and lessons free of charge for caregivers at alztennessee.org/academy.

Starting July 1, new Silver Alert legislation becomes law. It gives the TBI new protocols and education on how to handle the alerts.