People living with dementia are at risk of getting lost, and go missing every day in Canada. For example, in July, a person living with dementia went missing and was found by the police under a highway bridge more than 24 hours after he was last seen.
This is a growing problem. Today, over 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, and this number is projected to triple by 2050. Recent research reported that the prevalence of missing person calls involving an individual with dementia has increased by between 10 and 50 per cent across all Ontario regions over the last five years.
The risk of getting lost differs among people living with dementia based on their individual risk factors. For example, some individuals may have reduced processing of pain and thermoregulation, which means they don’t feel the cold or heat. That increases the likelihood of adverse outcomes when the person goes missing.
Prevention is fundamental and has the potential to save lives and decrease the risk of injuries for persons living with dementia. For example, Alzheimer Scotland developed a missing person app called Purple Alert to support the safety and well-being of people living with dementia. If someone with dementia goes missing in the area, the app sends an alert to community citizens who have opted in.
In Canada, data on missing older adults living with dementia are sparse, and information on reported incidents typically comes from news and media reports. Japan is the only country we know of that keeps annual statistics regarding the number of cases of missing adults with dementia. In 2021, 17,636 persons living with dementia went missing in Japan.
It is clear that as a country, Canada needs better approaches to manage and prevent missing incidents involving people living with dementia. For example, prevention strategies could include:
- Specialized training of first responders to identify and intervene when they see a missing person with dementia.
- Prevention measures at home and in the community. This may include providing safe common areas at home such as a fenced patio, labelling doors to provide a reminder of what each room is for, having a recent photo of the individual, and becoming familiar with the neighbourhood, including likely places a person might wander to and any hazards such as ponds and busy roads.
- Technology to support persons living with dementia and their caregivers. For example, tools to assess individual risk for going missing and getting lost.