A senior driving with dementia is missing!
It may not be wandering behavior when an older person goes missing while driving. In fact, in more than half (56%) of 81 instances in a study, the senior went missing after a regular, routine, and permitted trip, according to data from the first 18 months of Florida’s Silver Alert program.
That’s not to say that a minority of older people don’t try to sneak a drive in after their license is suspended, researcher Meredeth A. Rowe, Ph.D., R.N., said. In 19% of cases, the person took the keys while their caregiver slept. Therefore, warn spouses and others to secure their keys before a nap or bedtime.
About one-third of the missing drivers were recovered thanks to the silver alert warnings posted on Florida’s electronic highway signs. Similar to a missing child Amber Alert, police display the car’s license plate, color, and model. Florida averages between two and three silver alerts per week.
Interestingly, 75% of alerts involved elderly men, despite a higher prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia among older women, Dr. Rowe said at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America.
Two-thirds of the missing drivers were found in a different county, which supports use of a statewide system, said Dr. Rowe, who is a professor at the University of South Florida, Gainesville. About 10% of drivers cross state lines.
Some missing drivers were discovered in dangerous situations, including stopped on train tracks, driving the wrong direction on a highway, or lying on an interstate median. Despite this, the majority return home unharmed.
However, 4 of the 81 Florida alerts ended in death. One person drove her car into a canal and drowned; one died from exposure in remote woods and was found one-quarter mile from his car; and two older men committed suicide with a firearm after law enforcement found them.
Physicians can make a difference for older patients with signs of dementia, their caregivers, and the public by writing a prescription for driving cessation when indicated, Dr. Rowe said. You can intervene more effectively than a concerned significant other, friend, or family member – who are more emotionally invested and sometimes resort to taking away or hiding their keys, she added.
–Damian McNamara (on twitter @MedReporter)