Wandering is one of the most common symptoms of Alz. disease and it is a compulsion that can be neither stopped nor curbed. Even security alarms in homes cannot always prevent a person from leaving the house and when someone becomes lost the situation is both dangerous and frightening.
When I am called to help locate someone, I sometimes find myself convinced it's easier to find a needle in the haystack, than it is one lost Alz. victim. You see, as I said before each person is an individual and there for, you can't rely on past experiences to help you locate this person.
It helps, of course, if you are working with and receiving information from the family, but even then it can take a very long time to locate an individual. If you'll notice on the help sheet (If the person is missing) I've given you some base ideas/locations to work with. But again, there is no guarantee the person will be located in any of the possible locations that are written down.
As well, remember that not all people suffer from the same type of Alz., so don't go on the assumption you will find this person just ambling down a street in full view. Careful searches of even vacant areas need to be explored because there's no telling where the Alz. person has gone.
How To Approach:
So you've gotten lucky and found the person..now what do you do? If you've been reading this manual you should already know...but we'll go through it again just to be certain.
Things to look for:
A. Does the person appear delusional, restless and agitated. The symptoms can range from being weepy to combative.
B. ALWAYS assess the situation and a pproach an Alz. who is showing the above symptoms, with caution. Stay out of the "strike zone" (i.e. close enough to be struck). Instead, stand back and extend your hand. If it is batted or hit, remain at a safe distance and speak to the AD person is a quiet friendly tone until they have calmed down.
What To Do/What Not To Do:
C. ALWAYS approach an Alz. person from the front.
Remember the peripheral vision is impaired a nd they won't see you coming from anyw here but the front. PLEASE curb your natural impulse to spontaneously reach out and grab them. Instead, simply walk past them to a reasonable distance, turn around and approach slowly from the front. Once you have made eye contact, keep your voice friendly and give the appearance that you know the person. Address them by name, walking slowly towards them until you are within a range of where you can carefully assess the situation. Look at the persons demeanor. Look into their eyes. View their stance...their movements and behaviors. If they are calm, reach out your hand and encourage them to take it. If, as I said before, it is swatted away, remain at a safe distance and try to calm them down using a quiet gently voice.
D. Always keep the tone of your voice friendly.
As I have mentioned several times before, the tone o f your voice is an important tool in dealing with an Alz. victim. As their ability to comprehend di minishes, they become very perceptive at reacting/responding to the tone of a voice. If they sense frustration, anger, or impatience, they are very apt to respond in kind. Moderating your voice so it is even and friendly, tells the person they have nothing to fear from you. A smile, a friendly gesture and a sense of calm can actually accomplish what words may fail to do....offer a sense of comfort and security to a very frightened person.
E. Maintain eye contact with an Alz. person at all times when talking to them.
When you speak with an Alz. person, ALWAYS maintain eye contact. In doing this it will give you an accurate idea of how 'aware' the person is, and also how much the person is understanding / relating to what is being told to them.
F. And call the person by their name if you know it.
Different Types of Wanderers
From my experiences of searching for lost Alz. victims, I have found there are 2 distinctive types. The 'straight' liners and the random walkers. You'll never know the type of wanderer you're dealing with until a pattern emerges (i.e. you start getting calls that the person has been spotted) but here's a brief overview of the two types.
The straight liners:
This type of wanderer is the most easy to find. In fact, my mother was a straight line walker. This type of individual looks down at the sidewalk and simply begins to follow it. Whether it leads north, south, east or west they rarely veer off the walk. They just put their head down and off they go following this gray path to see where it leads. This wanderer will rarely cross over to the other side of the street OR turn left or right. They just focus on what is before them and follow it.
The random walker:
This type is much harder to find. There is no rhyme or reason to their walking they just simply go. They may walk several blocks in one direction, only to turn and veer off into another. Their pattern constantly changes and they can end up miles from home and on the other side of town.
All to often when search parties begin the arduous task of locating an individual, they are fooled into believing this individual will remain close to home. They usually begin the search covering a few block radius and it isn't until later they extend their coverage. Sometimes it works out that way, the person is found a few blocks from home and is returned quickly and safely. But unfortunately, that isn't always the case.
Several years ago I received a phone call from the Police Dept. An 86 year old Alz. victim had wandered way from the hospital and had been missing for hours. I was told the civil defense had been combing a 5 block radius for hours but had turned up nothing... So did I have any ideas of where to look? After several questions I was told the lady was an "excellent" walker. Now to me, that was the first big clue as to how far away she could be. I was also told she wasn't from the Columbus area but from a small town north of us...which was the second clue.
Since I knew the search area was very small in coverage, I told them they had to enlarge it to cover every block in Columbus and in particular to keep a careful eye on the south side of town. You see, what the searchers focused on was the matter that she was old..what I focused on was the fact she was an excellent walker. Sure enough 6 hours later, she was located miles away from the hospital in the south part of town. How did I know she would end up there? Easy! The south part of Columbus is the old section of town. The houses are large and rambling and probably very similar to what this lady lived in. I knew this person left the hospital with thoughts of going to her home and that's exactly what she did. She went to the section of town she believed her house to be.
Now I could leave this experience as it is, because yes, we were lucky and found her. And to most of the citizen of Columbus, they assume it had a happy ending...and it did. BUT there is one other thing that needs to be mentioned because it clarifies the REASON to pay attention to what I have said above. The correct way to approach a person.
To put it point blank, the approach to this woman was completely wrong and the result almost cost her, her life. You see, the Policeman who spotted her forgot the golden rules and became overly zealous in his happiness of finding her. Instead of taking it slowly he did the exact opposite. He ran up, made a grab for her...and she bolted. To make matters worse, she was very close to the railroad tracks and in her desperation to flee this dangerous person, that is where she headed. Not only did she stumble and fall into the tracks, but there was also, a train coming. Had that officer not extracted her from where she lay, she would have been run over, and the outcome would have been far from a happy ending.
Now do you see WHY I tell you to approach the way I do? This was a situation that didn't need to happen. Elation over ruled the correct techniques and it almost had disastrous results.
By Marsha Penington
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