Last December, the San Diego Board of Supervisors announced the Alzheimer’s Project, a county-wide campaign that aims to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease in San Diego County over the next five years. While the new initiative primarily focuses on bringing the top researchers available in San Diego together to work on Alzheimer’s, another group is working to improve services for those with dementia and their caregivers. In the short term, family caregivers whose loved ones suffer from Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism, and Down Syndrome will enjoy a huge and helpful improvement in county services. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s Take Me Home program, which provides key information to law enforcement during missing person searches, now has an online registry, courtesy of The Alzheimer’s Project. Watching a loved one with dementia 24/7 can cause the most stress to caregivers, because while caregivers need to sleep, Alzheimer’s patients often suffer from insomnia, nighttime restlessness, and a tendency to wander from home. Even family caregivers who are able to take advantage of companion homecare for respite care, overnight care, or live-in care can find themselves looking for a loved one who ‘was right there a second ago.’
The Take Me Home program, hosted by the Sheriff’s Department, is a photo registry and database that all law enforcement in San Diego can access when involved in a situation with someone with Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism, Down Syndrome, or other developmental disabilities. The registry comes into play when someone is located and can’t identify themselves, or during a common police situation, but its primary use will likely involve missing person searches involving Alzheimer’s or dementia patients. According to the San Diego Alzheimer’s Association, six out of ten people with dementia will stray from their homes or wander away from caregivers when they’re out at some point during their illness. So the registry, which allows family caregivers to enroll a loved one with a photo, a detailed physical description, known routines, favorite attractions, special needs, and emergency contact information, serves two purposes. If a dementia patient goes missing, searchers have current, accurate information on the missing person. If a dementia patient is found, law enforcement can send a photo to the registry, and a search for a match will be made. According to the Sheriff’s Department, about half of all missing person searches in the county are for people with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, autism or other disability. The update to the registry made possible by the Alzheimer’s Project puts the whole database online, which allows for updated photos, relevant health information, whether a person is verbal, and behavioral details like stress response.
On their website, the Alzheimer’s Association offers these tips to caregivers and families of those who may be at risk of wandering:
- Avoid busy places that are confusing and can cause disorientation, such as malls or grocery stores;
- Consider placing side bolts at the top or bottom of exterior doors;
- Keep car keys out of sight;
- Use devices that signal when a door or window is opened, such as a bell or alarm system;
- Consider getting an electronic monitoring device;
- Keep a recent photo and updated medical information handy;
- When someone with dementia is missing, begin search efforts of the immediate area right away; 94 percent of people who wander are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared. Search for only 15 minutes and then call 911 to report a “vulnerable adult” is missing;
- Know whether the person is right- or left-handed. Wandering generally follows the direction of the dominant hand;
- For more on wandering, go to alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-safety.asp
It’s a natural instinct for family caregivers to want to care for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia around the clock themselves. But it’s not realistic, since the human body isn’t meant to go without sleep, and Alzheimer’s can reverse a patient’s natural sleep cycle, and cause restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, and depression. When Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are up at night and moving around, the risk of wandering grows, making San Diego’s Take Me Home registry even more important to your loved one’s safety. Download the Take Me Home program flyer here, and get your loved one signed up today.