Jackman discovered some valuable lessons in the search for his father, which he wrote about in a touching Washington Post story.
Jackman reported that his dad, “Spent most of his career as a spokesman for the airline industry and the American Automobile Association before retiring more than 10 years ago. He had to stop doing that about two years ago, when he got lost coming home from the museum one day.”
Jackman’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about two years ago but is in fi ne physical shape otherwise. As with many people with Alzheimer’s, his short-term memory is terrible, although his long-term memory is still reasonably good.
“He lives with my mother, who is a couple of years younger and quite active around their town.”
Until last October, the doctor said it was OK to allow Dad to continue to drive to the two places he visited regularly: A daily drive of about one mile to Starbucks and a Sunday drive of less than a mile to the church where he has long sung in the choir.
“To our knowledge, he had never experienced any problems going back and forth between those two places until a Saturday morning in October.”
What happened that morning?
“My mom went to meet some of her friends for a leisurely breakfast. Dad was asleep when she left; he typically goes on his daily Starbucks run around 11. Mom returned around 11:30 a.m., so she wasn’t concerned when Dad wasn’t home. But by 12:30, she began to be. At 1:30, she was extremely concerned and started calling me. Shortly before 2 p.m., she called the Fairfax County police.”
“The Police conducted an all-out search with more than 60 officers. One officer was assigned to stay with my mother, to get information from her and to be around in case Dad called or showed up. A helicopter searched the air over the town where they live.” “The fire and rescue department took down all of Dad’s medical information in case he was found in distress. Officers were dispatched to any place we could think he might have visited. Th e phone company was contacted to try to locate his cell phone — an older model which had no GPS device in it.”
The police released a Missing Persons poster at 4:30 a.m., and the local TV news began broadcasting it at 5:00. “At around 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, an offi cer in Washington, D.C., found my father. His car had stalled outside a McDonald’s near the Capitol, about 25 miles from his home. Receipts in the car showed he had driven about 40 miles north to Baltimore, got gas, went to a McDonald’s there and then drove back to Washington. He had no memory of any of it. He was checked out at a hospital and released.”
What were some of the lessons learned from this experience? For one thing, cell-phone locator technology is far from perfect. Th e phone company was quite certain that his phone was in a particular neighborhood. Two months later, my mother found the cell phone under a couch in their house. He’d never taken it with him.
For older phones without GPS capability, like my dad’s, phones pinging off cell towers can still be in a radius of many miles around the towers.
Another lesson was that many banks simply do not have the capability to access customers’ records immediately on weekends, particularly smaller banks such as the one my dad uses. Even for the police.
Can technology help fi nd people with Alzheimer’s who are wandering? Th ere are devices that can be used to track missing adults. But in Fairfax County there is a waiting list to obtain one, from a program called Project Lifesaver, which is available in nearly every jurisdiction in the Washington, D.C. area.
“After I wrote the article, a local group stepped up and donated several thousand dollars to Project Lifesaver in Fairfax County, which will be used to purchase more GPS equipment so more people can be enrolled. Th e newly elected sheriff has indicated he hopes to expand the program.”
Advice for Families with Loved Ones with Dementia at Risk of Wandering
Six in 10 people with dementia will wander. A person with Alzheimer’s may not remember his or her name or address, and can become disoriented, even in familiar places. Wandering among people with dementia is dangerous, but there are strategies and services to help prevent it.
Who is at risk of wandering?
Anyone who has memory problems and is able to walk is at risk for wandering. Even in the early stages of dementia, a person can become disoriented or confused for a period of time. It’s important to plan ahead for this type of situation.
Be on the lookout for the following warning signs:
• Wandering and getting lost is common among people with dementia and can happen during any stage of the disease.
• Returns from a regular walk or drive later than usual
• Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements
• Has diffi culty locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or dining room
• Appears lost in a new or changed environment.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers programs designed to assist in the monitoring and return of thosewho wander.
• MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return®
is a nationwide identifi cation program designed to save lives by facilitating the safe return of those who wander.
• Comfort Zone® and Comfort Zone Check-In® allow families to monitor a person with dementia’s whereabouts remotely using Web-based location services.
• Wandering can happen, even if you are the most diligent of caregivers. Use the following strategies to help lower the chances:
• Carry out daily activities.
• Having a routine can provide structure. Learn about creating a daily plan.
• Identify the most likely times of day that wandering may occur.