ELLSWORTH — A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is surely scary, as are any other health diagnoses involving dementia.
Further complicating the issue is that those with dementia are prone to “wandering,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
In fact, the association said that 6 in 10 people with dementia may wander.
However, they aren’t necessarily wandering in safe places or among people who are aware your loved one has dementia.
Those afflicted may wander because they are seeking stimulation. An event such as a thunderstorm also may trigger an episode of wandering.
The Alzheimer’s Association said the best course of action is to make a plan.
For local residents, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office can help with its newly launched Wandering Program.
Sheriff Scott Kane said the process is simple.
There is a one page form to fill out with basic biographical information about an individual who may be at risk for wandering. The form asks for the person’s height, weight, hair and eye color and any distinguishing characteristics.
There are places to include emergency contact names and numbers as well as caseworkers, if there are any.
The form includes a spot to let officers know about any “triggers” that may disturb the person or “calmers” that might soothe.
A photo of the potential wanderer is uploaded into the sheriff’s database so officers are able to act quickly when a loved one is reported missing.
The agency also can scan a person’s eyes so a snapshot of his or her retina is put in a national database, along with a photograph, to assist with quick identification.
So, if Grandma is missing, you can notify the Sheriff’s Office, which will immediately issue an alert to all law enforcement.
The service is offered for free and saves law enforcement valuable time in an emergency. The Sheriff’s Office has been able to locate missing people with dementia successfully in recent years, but there have been tragic cases in other states.
In Georgia in 2004, a woman, 68, with Alzheimer’s disease disappeared. Her body was found eight months later just 500 yards from her residence.
The risk of wandering is just one of many side effects of Alzheimer’s that families should prepare for early.
Jo Cooper, executive director of Friends in Action, which provides free rides for older adults to medical appointments among other services, suggests planning ahead.
“Look for resources long before you think you need them,” Cooper said. “In-home support with meal preparation or personal care or just housekeeping is hard to find and often more expensive than people expect. It is a good to have an idea of what is available.”
Think about a plan for housing when the Alzheimer’s patient is no longer able to live independently.
“Look for housing options because often it is a good idea to get on waiting lists a year or more before it may be needed,” Cooper said.
Find emotional support, Cooper said. That includes the person with the diagnosis as well as the caregivers.
“There are support groups for caregivers (one is at the Ellsworth Public Library monthly) but also for people who have a diagnosis,” she said.
“Talk with Eastern Area Agency on Aging,” said Cooper. “They have resources for family caregivers.”
Finally, “stay active and social,” Cooper said.
“Friends in Action can help people with some mild dementia and memory loss who live on their own by helping with transportation,” Cooper said.
“We also offer social programs at our senior center in Ellsworth and also in Blue Hill, Prospect Harbor and Stonington. It may be best to have a friend or family member accompany someone.”
“We do not offer any personal care at the senior center and the individual needs to be fairly functionally independent or should have a caregiver with them,” she said.
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Warning signs of wandering
- Returns from a regular walk or drive later than usual
- Forgets how to get to familiar places
- Talks about fulfilling former obligations, such as going to work
- Tries or wants to “go home,” even when at home
- Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements
- Has difficulty locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or dining room
- Asks the whereabouts of past friends and family
- Acts as if doing a hobby or chore, but nothing gets done (e.g., moves around pots and dirt without actually planting anything)
- Acts nervous or anxious in crowded areas, such as shopping malls or restaurants
— Courtesy of The Alzheimer’s Association