Sunday, February 11, 2007

Alzheimer's Association Safe Return Program

I have had many hospice patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. One thing I have learned is that I never know the boundaries of what they will or won’t do. So I’m always surprised when I meet caregivers who think they can accurately predict the behavior of their relatives who have dementia.

When a disease is progressive, it is moving at an unpredictable pace. A friend of mine left her husband in the car, while she ran into a store to make a quick purchase. Upon returning, she became frantic when she discovered the car was gone. Her husband had noticed the car keys, started the car and driven off, something he had not done in years, something she figured he would no longer do. Fortunately, the police found her husband several blocks away sitting in the parked car. But the story could have had a tragic ending.

The Alzheimer's Association Safe Return Program has been around for years, but I keep finding people who have never heard of it. This program provides safeguards, at a reasonable cost, for incidents, such as the one where my friend’s husband drove off. These safeguards include a national information and photo database that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a toll-free crisis line. Partnerships with law enforcement and other emergency responder agencies increase its effectiveness.

Identification products that have a toll-free number are provided. Products include necklaces, bracelets, wallets and clothing labels. When the phone number is called about a missing person, a caregiver is contacted through the Safe Return database. If necessary, the missing person’s photograph and information will be faxed to local law enforcement agencies. Nursing home patients, who might wander or get lost on trips, could also benefit from these products. One product I particularly like is worn by the caregiver to alert others that he or she is responsible for someone with dementia. If the caregiver is hurt, etc., others can help to get supervision for the patient. For more information, visit the Alzheimer's Association Web site. If you or anyone you know has used the services of this program, your comments are welcome.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
"Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes”
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

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