Alzheimer's Foundation of America
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | June 21, 2012

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Releases ‘Lost and…Found’ Report Highlighting Strategies to Address Missing Incidents Among People with Dementia

NEW YORK, NY— At a time when news reports of missing persons with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia continue to make headlines almost daily, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is encouraging law enforcement agencies nationwide to both learn about available methods to assist in the return of individuals with dementia who become lost, and to help educate the public about steps they can take to safeguard loved ones.

AFA outlines these strategies in a new report released today, entitled “Lost and…Found. A Review of Available Methods and Technologies to Aid Law Enforcement in Locating Missing Adults with Dementia.” It was funded by Project Lifesaver International, a nonprofit organization based in Chesapeake, VA, through a grant from the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The report also sheds enormous light on missing incidents, giving law enforcement and caregivers a full understanding of its scope as one of the most common, burdensome, costly and life-threatening behaviors of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as a major source of caregiver burnout and placement of people with dementia in long-term care facilities.

“Wandering is one of the most frightening and potentially life-threatening behaviors that may accompany a cognitive condition. The statistics related to this behavior are of grave concern,” said Gene Saunders, CEO and founder of Project Lifesaver. “That why we believe this study was so important to do, because there are clearly steps that can be taken to protect an ‘at risk’ individual, improve their quality of life and bring a level of peace of mind to their caregiver.”

Experts estimate that 60 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease will wander at some point during the progression of the brain disorder and half of those will become lost or separated from a loved one. The disease results in memory loss, confusion and decline in other intellectual functions that impair individuals’ ability to recognize they are in danger or to independently take action to return home safely.Moreover, up to 61percent of people who become lost will suffer serious injury or death if not found within 24 hours.

“As the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease continues to increase, it follows that wandering behavior will rise accordingly, underscoring the need to raise public awareness of strategies readily available to cope with—and curb—this potential crisis,” the report says.

Commenting on the report, Eric J. Hall, AFA’s president and CEO, said, “This report reinforces that law enforcement, caregivers and entire communities must be proactive about the very real risk of missing incidents. This challenging behavior not only threatens the lives of the nation’s most vulnerable population, but it also jeopardizes the health and well-being of caregivers.”

The report further notes that missing incidents are “a serious and costly public safety problem for law enforcement that will only get worse as this disease invades more lives.”

Search and rescue operations cost taxpayers an estimated $1,500 per hour and average nine hours, according to Project Lifesaver, which utilizes a rapid response system in conjunction with law enforcement to locate missing persons with Alzheimer’s disease, autism or other impairments.

The report identifies three broad categories of strategies to assist in identifying and/or locating a missing person with dementia:

  • Educating caregivers and the public, including law enforcement, about wandering behavior can help ensure that a missing person can be rapidly identified once found. Identification programs include registries and wearable forms of identification, such as bracelets, pendants and clothing labels.
  • Programs that alert the public via highway signs, TV announcements and other communication that a senior or disabled person has gone missing, much like Amber Alert for children, can increase the chances that a Good Samaritan will locate and assist the individual to safety. Currently, 41 states have formally created alert programs, commonly called Silver Alert, that target missing adults, including those with a cognitive impairment.
  • “Active” tracking systems that use radio signals, global positioning satellites or cellular triangulation, or a combination of these technologies, can assist in search and rescue by pinpointing the whereabouts of a person wearing or carrying a tracking device.

The report points out that in almost all cases using a combination of methods will produce the greatest likelihood that the missing person is found quickly and safely. Further, it says, “no one service can guarantee that an individual can be found or found unharmed every time—underscoring the need to deploy all possible prevention methods to stop elopement from occurring in the first place.”

Lauren Coleman, 19, of Merriam, KS, recalls how difficult it was for her to see her great-grandmother’s memory loss advance from “forgetting small things to forgetting larger things” and then to wandering away from home.

“Mama Susie had wandered off from the house and walked over five miles to the church that she loved so much. The pastor contacted my grandmother and told her that Mama Susie was there,” the teen says in a case study included in the “Lost and Found” report. “At that point, it really hit home to me that things were really bad.”

Wandering can be prompted by a person’s desire to “go home”; a response to stress or unmet needs, such as hunger; or a medication side effect.

“Lost and…Found” also provides points of differentiation among available technology, tips on how to help prevent a missing incident and create a wandering response plan, a state-by-state listing of Silver Alert programs, and additional resources on the topic.

The full report is available on AFA’s Web site at www.alzfdn.org.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, based in New York, is a national nonprofit organization that unites more than 1,600 independent member organizations nationwide with the goal of providing optimal care and services to individuals with dementia, their caregivers and families. Its services include counseling and referrals by licensed social workers via a toll-free hot line, e-mail, Skype and live chat; educational materials; a free quarterly magazine for caregivers; and professional training. For more information, call toll-free 866-AFA-8484 or visit www.alzfdn.org.

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Photos available upon request.

Contact: Carol Steinberg
Phone: 866-AFA-8484