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 40’s can also 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 000 immediately to report the person missing
  • file a Missing Persons Report at a police station.  See more about How to report a missing person
  • be prepared to answer questions from police, 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


Dementia and behaviour

The condition most commonly associated with dementia is Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative disease affecting the brain.  It is important to remember that while anyone who suffers from Alzheimer's can be said to have dementia, not everyone who suffers from dementia has Alzheimer's.

Examples of other diseases and conditions where dementia symptoms may be seen are:

  • Pick's disease
  • vascular dementia (mini strokes)
  • fluid on the brain (hydrocephalus)
  • Korsakoff's Syndrome and other alcohol related dementia
  • brain injury
  • as a result of a brain tumour
  • AIDS related dementia


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 to unfavourable weather conditions.

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.


Mild dementia

A mild dementia sufferer is someone who is still generally capable of looking after themselves, even if they have people coming to give them help from time to time.

Places they are most likely to be found will depend upon their personal motivation.  As they can largely look after themselves they are also still capable of interacting with the outside world.  They are therefore more likely to:

  • make use of public transport
  • travel further distances, in some instances interstate or overseas
  • use vehicles


Severe dementia

A severe dementia sufferer is someone who is no longer capable of looking after themselves.  They need full-time supervision or live-in help.

They are most likely to be found in locations indicative of random wandering, regardless of whether they believe their motivation is random or goal driven, as they will suffer a high degree of delusion.


Tracking devices for wanderers 

A solution to addressing wanderers and to help keep your loved one safe and secure, is the use of a location or tracking device.  These devices have GPS capabilities and can be provided to love ones who have a medical need such as Alzheimer’s, and allows them to be found quickly and safely.

Tracking or location devices are not provided by the police but may be purchased online or from a store or supplier who sell such devices.

For more information about dementia visit Alzheimer’s Australia


Related information
Alzheimer’s Australia Victoria – Dementia Centre