Columbia Alzheimer's Chapter Speaks Out About Wandering

5 years 9 months 4 weeks ago Monday, August 19 2013 Aug 19, 2013 Monday, August 19, 2013 4:25:00 PM CDT August 19, 2013 in News
By: Devon Fasbinder, KOMU 8 Digital Producer

COLUMBIA - The weekend disappearance of a Pevely woman, and the recent death of missing Alzheimer's patient Hellen Cook, highlight a key risk for dementia patients who may "wander," or get lost.

"Wandering can happen, even if you are the most diligent of caregivers," the Alzheimer's Association website reports.

The first of the recent Missouri cases was 73-year-old Hellen Cook who went missing July 13 from Warsaw. Cook had Alzheimer's. Her disappearance led to immense media coverage as people reported multiple sightings. Some of her clothing was found well before her body was discovered.

60-year-old Deborah Lynn Rawlins, who has dementia, went missing from Herculaneum Saturday. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office issued a missing person's alert Monday.

Joetta Coen, the associate director of program and services at the Alzheimer's Association Columbia Chapter, spoke about elderly individuals with these mental diseases. Coen said it's important to better understand what happens in their minds.

"The process of Alzheimer's is a process of subtraction. So things that look familiar today won't look familiar tomorrow," Coen said. "This can cause them to just keep walking or driving until they do find something familiar."

Police suspected Cook to have headed toward her home in Buckner during the investigation.

Her family has been in contact with Republican lawmaker Wanda Brown and Democratic lawmaker John Mayfield regarding missing person's laws. The family wants some to be reformed, to benefit others going through similar situations.

These reforms include a call to action for standard procedures for the following:

  • Categorizing missing persons
  • Standard alert procedures
  • Compiling a list of databases
  • Standard and recommended search procedures
  • A list of search resources
  • A list of media outlets where information may be released
  • Guides for families

The Alzheimer's Association website lists steps to take once a person with a mental illness has gone missing. These include:

  • Keep a list of people to call on for help
  • Begin search-and-rescue efforts immediately
  • Ask neighbors, friends and family to call if they see the person alone
  • Keep a recent, close-up photo and updated medical information on hand to give to police
  • Know if the individual right or left-handed as that is usually the direction they will wander
  • Keep a list of places where the person may wander
  • Provide the person with ID jewelry
  • Consider having the person carry or wear an electronic tracking GPS device that helps manage location.
  • If the person does wander, search the immediate area for no more than 15 minutes.

Coen said when dementia patients wander off, they "are just seeking the familiarity in life."

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