Nothing can beat that feeling of panic families feel when someone they are caring for with Alzheimer’s or dementia decides to wander.
Alistair Hicks, owner of Home Instead Senior Care office in Victoria, knows the feeling all too well.
To help find those panic-stricken individuals, Home Instead recently launched an online service to help keep the senior population safe.
The new alert system, available at missingseniornetwork.ca, is targeted towards helping families in the area find missing seniors with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
“It’s just a really simple communication network,” said Hicks, adding that there’s a few steps.
The first step is to go to the website, create an account and register yourself. You will then need to enter your contacts using phone numbers, emails or Facebook contacts.
The system will then alert everybody in your network from neighbours to friends to shops down the street, in the event your loved one goes missing.
If your parent or child goes missing, Hicks said, you need to look in the radius where they were last seen, but he added people shouldn’t look more than 15 minutes before notifying police, because for every minute that passes, the potential for someone to be lost for more than 24 hours rises.
After contacting police, individuals should then use the Missing Senior Network website, hitting one button to alert everybody on their list.
“At the hit of a button, it will contact all of them…” said Hicks.
Although he’s never had to look for his own wandering parents, Hicks has had to look for his child, who hid in a rack of clothes in the mall — a different situation, but just as scary.
“The panic that happens within a split second, your brain turns into panic mode, your heart starts beating,” he said.
While seniors are the main focus for the new alert system, the service can help others too.
“For me, this one sort of straddles from seniors to toddlers, to children or young adults, or adults with some kind of disability who may wander,” said Hicks, adding that the main focus, is however, seniors.
And the story of panic, Hicks said, is the most poignant.
Six out of ten people who live with Alzheimer’s or dementia will wander at least once, which equates to 450,000 Canadians.
So far, there is no cure for the illness.
“Without a cure, 1.4 million Canadians will have dementia by 2031,” said Hicks, adding that approximately 900,000 of those will wander.
With 70 caregivers looking after around 90 clients, with the majority of those clients having some form of dementia or memory loss at their own facility, Home Instead started the service with that feeling of panic in mind.
“It can happen anytime, it’s not just people walking around wandering, it could be someone with dementia who picks up the keys off the kitchen table, gets in the car and wanders in the car, (and) has no clue where they are, where they’re going or what they’re doing,” said Hicks.
He said a lot of people associate wandering with being lost, but that’s not the case for the person who is wandering.
“People with Alzheimer’s and dementia, they’re usually living in the moment…”
Their brain often is telling them about a moment they could have had 30 or 50 years ago.
“In their mind there’s a purpose. They’re not just wandering because they don’t know what to do. A lot of the time, there’s a purpose.”
They could be picking up the kids from school, a routine they had 50 years ago, or driving to the office to go to work, when really, they retired 30 years ago.
In an email to the PNR, Hicks said more than 70 percent of families who have reported an incident are taking the precautions necessary to prevent wandering from happening.
In addition to setting up the alert network, families can also take other proactive steps to help manage wandering behaviours.
One of those steps could include ensuring an individual always wears a form of identification such as an ID bracelet. Another is preparing the home for wandering like purchasing higher security locks or alarms for doors.
For additional tips, visit preventwandering.ca.