Alzheimer's advocates say 'ask for help' following string of incidents

June 17, 2019 11:38 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- Advocates for dementia patients urged greater vigilance and called on patients' families to seek help after a series of incidents where people with Alzheimer's disease wandered off, sometimes with deadly results. 

"It's always coming in the back of my mind: are we reaching everyone? And the answer is no," sighed Dina Johnson, director of Care and Support with the Alzheimer's Association, in light of a string of recent incidents of dementia patients wandering off, inciting frantic searches. 


In May, 88-year-old missing Alzheimer's patient Luis Arzuaga turned up dead. Just last week, 80-year-old Leroy McNish got home safe after a frantic search. But former Monroe County Deputy Joe Bradford, who had dementia, was dead by the time he was found in February. 

"They want to go somewhere. And they up and go if they can do it, without a plan, and they wander," explained Rick Gause of Irondequoit whose family has cared for his mother-in-law at home for three years after she wandered off from a facility in Penfield.  

"She's just trying to go somewhere. It was like a piece, a portion of her mind saying 'I want my independence. I'm going to go where I want to go'," said Gause. 

"I have Alzheimer's and I can't remember anything, or very few, drives me nuts," exclaimed Robert Pearce, 84, of Bloomfield.

Pearce's wife Laura said dealing with his developing dementia was a challenge but one in which she found valuable help from neighbors. While mobility problems made him unlikely to wander far, it was reassuring to know help was available.

"We live on a quiet street," she said. "All of our neighbors know that Bob has Alzheimer's. Not that I want them to look out for him but, just in case they see him." 

Johnson urges families dealing with dementia to reach out through the Alzheimer's Association's MedicAlert and Safe Return service which provides patients with specially marked bracelets or necklaces to help responders get them back home if they go missing.

At home, the association suggests obscuring deadbolts and even door knobs to keep a home's exits from enticing a patient to wander off.

Experts propose hedges around outdoor areas like yards and patios to discourage any wanderlust. They also say families may want to put away cues, such as car keys and even coats, that a dementia patient might associate with leaving to go somewhere.

Gause granted that stashing the car keys became an important step for his mother-in-law.

"She had ownership of her car," he said.  "And when she sees keys, she thinks it's her car. She's going to go home. She thinks home. She thinks her car.


Charles Molineaux

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