Just this week, there were at least five cases in the Wichita area of senior citizens with dementia or Alzheimer's taking off on their own. They were all found quickly but one--that was the Silver Alert issued a Wichita man who was eventually found safe. But those who know, say there will be more and more such cases as the baby boomers age.
"They just know they're supposed to be someplace, or they don't want to be someplace and they just wander away," Bonnie Workman of Goddard says.
Workman says her late husband wandered off several times as his Alzheimer's advanced.
"He wanted to go for a walk or he just needed a space for himself, or sometimes he would want to go find me if I wasn't here," Workman says.
She eventually moved him to a care facility, but that didn't stop him.
"He had managed to get the window open, kick the screen out and crawl through the window on the first floor," Workman remembers.
Fortunately, every time he took off someone spotted him before he got very far.
The Alzheimer's Association's Linsey Norton says if impaired seniors are not found quickly and law enforcement has to issue a Silver Alert, it often doesn't end well.
"It's not uncommon getting another alert a few days later saying we found the person passed away--we found the person dead in their care somewhere or frozen to death," Norton says.
The Association says 6 out of 10 people with Alzheimer's or dementia wander off at some point, usually more than once. Norton says this will be a bigger concern as the large baby boom generation gets older. She says they usually intend to return home, but lose their way.
"One wrong turn, and not seeing the building we expect to see on the corner means often they can't get back to where they want to be," Norton says.
And those who've dealt with it say it's a constant worry.
"Oh, I think it's distressing--really stressful--and I think it's stressful for them, because they think they can do it and then they're lost," Workman says.
About the states now have a Silver Alert program. The legislature formally established it in Kansas last year.
The Alzheimer's Association can help families with strategies to prevent loved ones from wandering off. Click here to see the Central and Western Kansas Alzheimer's Association website.