Those of us who enjoy true crime know that missing person cases can become very complex very quickly. Investigators must pin down a timeline of events and develop a precise methodology when it comes to strategizing the search. However, when dealing with a missing person with dementia, an entire new layer of complexities falls on the case. Investigators must tailor their search strategy based on the nature of the missing person’s dementia, and information about their habits and routines from their loved ones.  

Information For a Missing Person with Dementia

Information is key to finding any missing person, but even more so in the case of a missing person with dementia. When filing a missing person report, family members, friends and caregivers must be forthcoming with all relevant information. Not just identifying information, but also details about their schedule or their daily routine can inform law enforcement of the missing adult’s habits. Lauth private investigators recommend documenting the following information for the investigation.  

  • Name 
  • Home state and town  
  • Height  
  • Weight  
  • Age 
  • Where they were last seen  
  • Their daily routine 
  • Their personal habits  
  • Locations they often frequent or mention in conversation  
  • Details about previous instances of any “wandering” behavior 

If the missing person with dementia goes unrecovered for more than three days, you should request law enforcement enter their name onto the FBI’s NCIC list as an “endangered adult.” 

Adults with dementia are the most vulnerable adults who disappear. Their brain chemistry is fundamentally different from the average person, stemming from a myriad of brain disorders from Alzheimer’s to alcoholic dementia. As a result, investigating the disappearance of these people becomes complicated. Adults with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are prone to what’s known as “wandering.” There are millions of stories of children whose aging parents simply wandered away from the property. Over 5.5 million people in the United States and 70 percent wander away at least once during the course of the disease. Whether they wander away for ten minutes or ten days, there are a potential 3 million people who are walking away in any given year. 

Contacting Law Enforcement

In the case of a missing person with dementia, they cannot afford anything less than immediate response from family and law enforcement. When they cannot remember where they are, where they wanted to go, or how to get back home, they are the definition of endangered. Help for Alzhemier’s Families is a resource website with invaluable information for caregivers. They recommend acting immediately when you realized your loved one with dementia is missing. Conduct a thorough, but expedient search for them in the area where they were last seen. Monica Moreno is the director of Early-Stage Initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association. According to her, “Those who wander are often found within a half mile of home or the starting location of the incident.” The first 24 hours after your loved one goes missing is crucial, so if you find no sign of them, call 911. Brace yourself and your memory, as your knowledge about the adult’s habits and behaviors will be crucial to aiding law enforcement in locating them unharmed. 

Caregivers Are Assets for Finding a Missing Person with Dementia

Caregivers and loved ones should inform law enforcement of the specifics of their disease so they can issue a Silver Alert. A Silver Alert is like an Amber Alert, except instead of missing children, it concerns missing adults with dementia and other mental disabilities. The scope of the alert varies by state, most specifically persons over 65 who have been medically diagnosed by a medical professional as having a mental disability. Some states recognize persons of any age with a mental disability under the Silver Alert. One of the first nationally-recognized cases that laid the groundwork for this alert was the disappearance of Mattie Moore in 2004. She was a 68-year-old Alzheimer’s patient from Atlanta. After Mattie’s body was located 500 yards from her house, the city of Atlanta invented “Mattie’s Call” as a concentrated effort to support responders in search of missing adults with dementia. Today, there are few states that do not have programs formally known as Silver Alerts, or programs that are similar. 

An avenue often unexplored by families of missing adults with mental illness is hiring a private investigator. Private investigators have similar experience and tools as law enforcement, and can give your loved one’s case the focus it demands. Depending on how well-staffed a police department is, the average investigator can juggle between 30-40 cases, leaving your missing person with dementia as a file on someone’s desk. On average, private investigators handle between three and four cases at a time, meaning your missing loved one’s case gets the attention and dedication it deserves.