Alzheimer’s: What is Wandering? National Safe Return Program Helps Patients Return to Caregivers

National Safe Return program helps patients return to caretakers. Wandering is one of the most frightening and life-threatening behaviors associated with Alzheimer's disease and other dementing illnesses. Individuals with Alzheimer's are likely to wander at some point during the disease. They can become lost (even in familiar settings) and leave a safe environment.

Wandering can happen anytime and anyplace. Identifying the cause of the behavior can help eliminate or reduce its occurrence. Wandering can be caused by several factors, including medication side effects, stress, confusion related to time, restlessness, agitation, anxiety, inability to recognize familiar people, places and objects, fear arising from misinterpretation of sights and sounds, and desire to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work or looking after a child.

The Safe Return program is a national, government-funded program of the Alzheimer's Association that assists in the identification and safe, timely return of individuals with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias who wander off, sometimes far from home, and become lost. Since the program began in 1993, nearly 110,000 individuals have registered in Safe Return nationwide.

The program has facilitated the recovery of more than 8,000 individuals to their families and caregivers with an over 99 percent success rate in returning those registered in the program. The program includes identification products like wallet cards, jewelry, clothing labels, lapel pins and bag tags; a national photo/information database; a 24-hour toll-free emergency crisis line; Alzheimer's Association local chapter support; and wandering behavior education and training for caregivers and families.

The Safe Return toll-free number, 1 (800) 572-1122, is staffed around the clock by master's degree-level clinicians. When Safe Return is notified that a patient has been found wandering, the clinician contacts the appropriate caregivers. When notified that a patient has wandered away from a home or institution, the clinician sends a fax alert to local police and hospitals. Additionally, a representative of the Massachusetts Chapter, also on 24-hour call, is available to work with the patient's caregivers, with police and other involved agencies.

To register for the program, a patient with dementia or his/her caregiver can fill out a simple form, supply a photograph, and choose the type of identification product the registrant will wear and/or carry. For more information, call the National Hotline at 1 (800) 272-3900. Source:

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