For hours, Dorothy Huston waited for her husband to show up.
Walter was supposed to meet her by 2 p.m., and her worry intensified. Where could he be? Was he hurt?
Dorothy didn't know it that day, but Walter was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Lost and disoriented, the man in his late 70s drove around for hours, ending up in a town about 40 miles north of his Shawnee, Kansas, home.
Across the country, authorities are responding to an increasing number of calls when people wander away in the fog of dementia. Their missing-person photos often end up on the evening news.
In some parts of the country, including the Midwest, the alerts for missing seniors now outnumber those for missing children.
"The trick is, where do you look?" asked Maj. Mark Sullivan of the Mission Police Department, which put out an alert earlier this year for an 89-year-old man. "There's really nowhere to look. All we can do is hope they encounter law enforcement at some point."
Because of the number of these missing-person cases — expected to skyrocket as the population ages — law officers across the country are being trained to handle people with dementia. They're learning how to search for people who don't know their own names, people who may not know they're lost.
As part of Project Lifesaver, officers learn the importance of alerting the public of a missing person, as well as how dementia affects the brain and reasoning.
"They don't know where they are," said Michelle Niedens of the Heart of America chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. "They're not actively aware they are lost. They're less likely to call out for help or to respond."
Seniors with dementia can be gone for hours, sometimes days. And in extreme weather, such as summertime, the longer someone is lost, the more danger they're in.
The majority are found fairly close to home. But others can end up in another state, such as the woman from the Kansas City area who drove to Iowa before police located her.
Sometimes, after many hours, they can make it home themselves. Like Walter Huston did that day nine years ago.
"By 10 that night, he walked in the front door," Dorothy remembered. "He said, 'I guess I made the wrong turn.' "
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