June 24th, 2011 at 9:00 am
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Gold Alert for missing seniors making headway

by Carol Bursack

According to the Wall Street Journal, New York has joined other states including Illinois, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas in this effort that gives searching for missing seniors with disabilities the same urgency as searching for missing children.

Gold Alert: more states need to get on board

If you watch your local newspaper, it’s likely that you will, from time to time, see a search is being conducted for an elderly person who has wandered from his or her vehicle, or who has walked out of his or her home or even an assisted living facility or a nursing home. My community had such a case a few weeks ago.

An elderly man’s vehicle was found outside of his small town’s border, but there was no trace of the man. The newspaper article was just a brief, and made no mention that the man had dementia. His photo was published, which was helpful. Law enforcement officials eventually found the man a few miles away from his vehicle, dead from exposure. His vehicle still contained a good supply of gas, so no one will ever know why he left the car. Harder still for the family to handle, is the fact that no one knows why he drove away from his home in the first place.

Many people with Alzheimer’s want to “go home.” To them, “home” is an elusive place, likely the home they grew up in–one that no longer exists, or doesn’t exist as it once was. However, this drive to go home can cause the person with Alzheimer’s to go in search of that home, and no reasoning will dissuade him or her.

Having dementia does not diminish intelligence

Intelligent people with dementia remain intelligent, and some are very crafty. Just ask the families of those who have disabled vehicles only to find that the elder either fixed the vehicle or called a clueless auto mechanic to come and fix it. People with dementia can often seem very normal, so a call to fix a vehicle can often get cooperation.

Wandering, as this penchant to go out is called, is extremely dangerous, due to the vulnerability of these elders, and there’s no way to know when or if this behavior will kick in. People with dementia have been found walking along highways, as their family slept, secure in the knowledge that their elder is safely locked into his or her home or bedroom.

Learn to prevent wandering

Wandering can be addressed in many ways by using technology, hired caregiving help, or often locked memory unit care. The Alzheimer’s Association has many good tips to help prevent wandering. However, if your loved one, despite your best efforts, wanders away, you’d likely welcome the help of law enforcement and related agencies brought together through a Gold Alert.

I’d suggest people interested in promoting this idea in their state contact their legislators to propose or move along legislation.

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