Wandering is a common problem associated with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and autism. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 60% of people with dementia will wander at some point while a study by the Interactive Autism Network found that 49% of children with autism will engage in wandering behavior. While the vast majority of these individuals are recovered, wandering cases can end in tragedy.
Supervisor Hahn developed this idea after becoming involved with the search for Nancy Paulikas, a Manhattan Beach resident who suffers from early-onset Alzheimer’s and has been missing since she wandered away from her family while visiting LACMA in October 2016. Another District 4 resident, Sun Ja Choi, of La Mirada went missing 5 days ago and suffers from dementia.
“I continue to worry about the whereabouts and safety of Nancy Paulikas and now of Sun Ja Choi,” said Supervisor Hahn. “Families across LA County struggle to keep their loved ones with dementia and autism safe. We need proactive Countywide approach to helping these families to locate and recover their loved ones should they wander.”
Supervisor Hahn’s motion, which was co-authored by Supervisor Kathryn Barger received unanimous support from the Board of Supervisors, establishes a task force made up of key stakeholders from County departments, representatives from the Sheriff’s department, and members of the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater LA. The task force will report back to Board within 60 days with their findings including the best available devices to be implemented, guidance and a timeline for comprehensive training, and the estimated cost of such a program.
Success in Glendale
One model the task force may consider is the successful program established in Glendale. Glendale uses Project Lifesaver International, a system of wristband distributed to interested families through the Glendale Police Department. Each wristband contains a transmitter that can send signals to a handheld receiver. The wristband is not under constant monitoring by the police department but once a caregiver notifies police that their loved one is missing, receivers are activated connected to that wristband’s frequency code. Officers can then locate the missing person using multiple receivers to triangulate their wristband’s signal. There are currently 19 individuals enrolled in the Glendale Police Department program.
“Out of our 19 clients on the program we have had 7 go missing while wearing this device,” said Glendale Sergeant Traci Fox who testified at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting. “In all of these incidents the clients were located because of this device. The time it took to locate these clients was significantly reduced in comparison to incidents where the individual was not on the program. In some cases the clients were located within minutes of being reported missing. Worthy of specific notation is our success in locating a client who was riding a city bus. This location would have never occurred using traditional searching techniques without any tracking equipment.”
Support for Taskforce At Meeting
Several experts and individuals with personal experience with a family member who wanders were at the Board of Supervisors meeting to offer testimony to the importance of this task force.
Kirk Moody, whose wife Nancy Paulikas has early-onset Alzheimer’s and has been missing since October, attending the meeting to endorse the motion. While his wife was wearing a Medi-Alert bracelet, this bracelet contains no active tracking mechanism.
“My frustration in finding my wife is a situation that promises to repeat with increasing frequency as the overall population ages and Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia, and conditions such as autism become more prevalent,” said Kirk Moody.
Barbra McLendon from Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles also testified in support of the task force, providing key facts regarding the tendency of individuals with dementia to wander.
“Data from the National Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program collected during a 13-month period show that the majority -87%- of individuals with dementia who wander are typically found alive and returned safely within 12 hours of their departure time, said McLendon. “However, of those not found within 24 hours, 50% will suffer serious injury or death. So time is of the essence when a family reports that a loved one with dementia has gone missing. For this reason, we strongly support Supervisor Hahn’s motion creating the Bringing Our Loved Ones Home taskforce.”