People with dementia who tend to wander are more likely to go missing in areas that have dense, complex networks of roads. This is what researchers in the UK found in a review of hundreds of missing person police reports.

Dementia, a decline in memory and thinking skills associated with age, is a challenging condition for patients and their caregivers. Persons with dementia may leave their residence if left unattended. This is called wandering, and patients don’t do it to play tricks on others.

Complex roads are a challenge

In a study at the University of East Anglia, researchers examined where people with dementia may become lost. They analyzed 210 records of missing persons with dementia filed with the police in Norfolk County, UK, between January 2014 and December 2017. The missing were from both urban and rural areas.

Researchers checked out the layout of a nearby road network close to where the person went missing. They wanted to know if the network was accessible, because people with dementia often experience navigation problems. The first thing they noticed was the dense and disordered layout, where someone who has trouble with navigation might get lost.

They found that road networks with higher density often have more complex intersections. Persons with dementia may follow a road and expect it to lead them to a city area, possibly one they are familiar with. Yet intersections with so many turns increase their odds of making an error. Instead of getting out of the road maze safely, they may end up somewhere they don't recognize.

"We hope that by identifying these environmental risk factors, our findings can potentially help identify or predict areas where people with dementia may be at higher risk of going missing from – and contribute to the development of safeguarding guidelines to prevent them from going missing in future," said PhD student Vaisakh Puthusseryppady in a press release.

Dementia can develop for many reasons

It's not only caregivers of those with Alzheimer's who need to ensure that the patient doesn't go wandering off. Dementia can be the result of result of trauma, other diseases and other conditions. An article from the Alzheimer's Association defined dementia as a general term to describe a decline in memory and thinking skills. A person with dementia may or may not have Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer's disease is a specific progressive brain disorder that causes memory and thinking to deteriorate, which may cause symptoms of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60% to 80% of dementia cases.

The Mayo Clinic wrote about other causes of dementia, the most common being damage to or loss of nerve cells. Some forms of dementia are reversible, like those caused by autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune medications may stop immune cells from attacking nerve cells, addressing dementia-like symptoms.

On the other hand, some progressive forms of dementia are not reversible. For example, vascular dementia, the second most common type, occurs when blood vessels in the brain are damaged. The damage may lead to a stroke or other conditions that can trigger the dementia. People with this condition may have difficulties with problem-solving and organization skills.

Huntington's disease, a genetic neurological disorder linked to the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain, may affect parts of the brain linked to cognitive skills, leading to signs of dementia. Traumatic brain injury, typical among contact sports athletes and soldiers, may result in dementia symptoms. The repeated blows to the head increase the risk of problems in memory and thinking skills.

Caregiving Stress

Caregivers of people with dementia or Alzheimer's are prone to stress. They are probably unpaid and vulnerable to their loved one’s unexpected behavioral changes.

Support may come in different ways:

  • Connect to community resources, such as in-home assistance and meal delivery services. These may give a hand in some daily tasks.
  • Use techniques to relax your mind. Breathing exercises and a 15-minute meditation may work in a tight schedule.
  • Be physically active to relieve stress and improve overall health. A 10-minute exercise, be it gardening or dancing, may lower stress levels.

If you are taking care of someone with dementia, seek support in your community.