How to help someone who is lost or confused

According to the Alzheimer Society of Ontario’s Finding Your Way – How to help someone who is lost or confused – a practical guide, 60 percent of people with dementia become lost at some point. We all have a role to play in making our communities safe for people with dementia. Would you know what to do if you came across someone in public who was lost or confused?

Know the signs

The person may be:

  • Inappropriately dressed for the weather
  • Standing still looking around for a long period of time
  • Pacing
  • Looking confused or disoriented
  • Repeating the same question or statement within a short period of time

Know what to say

  • Speak slowly and calmly
  • Loudness can convey anger; avoid the assumption that the person is hearing impaired
  • Use short, simple words
  • Ask “yes” and “no” questions
  • Ask one question at a time, allowing plenty of time for response. If necessary, repeat the same question using the exact wording
  • People with dementia may only understand a part of the question at a time

Know what to do

  • Approach the person from the front
  • Identify yourself and explain why you’ve approached the person
  • Maintain a calm environment
  • Move slowly; maintain eye contact
  • Avoid confrontation
  • Avoid correcting or “reality checks”
  • Call police (911) for help returning the person home safely
  • Wait with the person until the police arrive

Becoming lost isn’t just distressing; it can be dangerous. Half the people with dementia who go missing for 24 hours end up seriously injured or dead. That’s why it’s so important that we offer assistance when we come across someone who seems lost or confused and for families to be prepared. To learn more contact your local Alzheimer Society or visit


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