An increasing number of people being reported missing are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. This disease is not a mental illness, but causes diminished mental capacity and puts it’s victims at high risk for injury or death if they are not found and returned to their residences within a short period of time.
People suffering from Alzheimer’s disease are usually elderly, but some can be as young as 40 years old. There are an estimated 100,000 Alzheimer patients in Massachusetts, and studies indicate that 26% of these patients will wander from their residences. Ten percent of all people over age 65, and 47% of those over age 85 suffer from the disease. The following is a guide to determining if an individual is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Less than 10% of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s wear an ID bracelet. (Some may wear an Alzheimer’s Wanderers Alert bracelet with their names, the words “Memory Impaired” and a toll-free “800″ phone number on the back. Such a bracelet indicates that the individual is listed in the nationwide Alzheimer’s Association Wanderers Alert Registry, which operates around the clock and has a local staff on call to address missing patient cases.) Check for other identification, such as a hospital bracelet, driver’s license, wallet card, etc. If they have no paper ID, check for identification labels on their inner and outer clothing.
(Physical/Psychological/Situational): As a First Responder, keep in mind that these individuals could be sick or injured but may be unable to communicate this information effectively. Keep your interview and assessment simple and remain calm, as these patients take their action cues from your words and behavior. Use non-threatening hand gestures.
There are usually no obvious signs of the disease, but people with Alzheimer’s could be inappropriately dressed for the weather; have vision problems; and have “blank” facial expressions. DO NOT assume they are intoxicated
There is a wide range of manifestations of the disease. People with Alzheimer’s experience short term memory loss, often repeating the same questions. They may appear confused and disoriented to time and location, uncoordinated, and unable to communicate. They may also be delusional, or even combative if very frightened.
Someone elderly found wandering, shoplifting, indecently exposed, or falsely reporting “missing” possessions (as people with Alzheimer’s may experience heightened suspicions). Because they may still be driving but will be unaware of the severity of their disease, they can easily become lost or even leave the scene of an accident after literally forgetting what happened.