Dementia Awareness in the Community
The Mesa Police Department
June 07, 2015
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among older people.
Currently there are over 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and half a million new cases will develop each year according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The majority, an estimated of 70 to 80 percent, of people with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia still live at home and are cared for by family or an informal care provider, which increases the opportunity to wander drasticly. It’s not a matter of if they wander but, rather, when they wander.
Prepare Before a Wandering Event
As a family member or caregiver, be prepared before the opportunity to wander occurs; it’s crucial for an effective and expedited search and rescue effort by law enforcement and the community.
- To assist police, keep a recent photograph or videotape of the person. Take pictures with your phone so you have them with you, if you’re away from home when they wander.
- Complete an Adult ID Kit (available at www.mesaaz.gov/residents/police or any Mesa Police Department) . The completed Kit will provide all the information needed about the person with dementia to assist Officers should the person become lost. Keep it readily available for law enforcement in the event the person goes missing and take a picture of the completed Kit with your phone so you always have it with you.
- Notify law enforcement immediately by calling 911 when someone is missing. Efforts are only delayed when you take the time to look for the person prior to calling for assistance. Law enforcement will issue a Silver Alert to notify and seek help from the public.
- Provide the person with dementia with some form of identification or a medical bracelet. If they get lost and are unable to communicate adequately, this will alert others to their identity and medical condition and includes a toll free number to be connected to the national Alzheimer’s Association.
Creating a safe environment for the person with dementia may help to lessen care partner stress and prevent a wandering incident.
Dementia Friendly Businesses
- Install secure locks on all outside windows and doors and keep them locked, especially if the person is prone to wandering. Consider a keyed deadbolt or an additional lock up high or down low on the door. If the person can open a lock because it is familiar, a new latch or lock may help.
- Install an alarm or bell on the door so you are alerted when the door is opened.
- Be sure to secure or put away anything that could cause danger, both inside and outside the house. Make sure knives, lighters and matches, and guns are secured and out of reach.
When businesses and people working with the public understand the needs and capabilities of their customers with dementia, they are better able to communicate and assist them. To meet the needs of this growing segment of our community, awareness and training is recommended for any person or business that interacts and provides services in the community. The training provides an understanding of persons with dementia, how to recognize symptoms, and when to call law enforcement if someone comes into their business and appears lost or disoriented or has behavioral issues.
A brochure written specifically for businesses entitled “Assisting Customers with Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia” can be found on our website at www.mesaaz.gov/police
Mesa Police Department Grant Award
In 2012, Mesa Police Department was selected as a pilot site by the University of Illinois, the Center for Public Safety, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance as part of a grant to address the law enforcement response to persons with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. “The goal is to improve our response and develop more effective, efficient and positive outcomes when our staff interacts with persons with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” said Karen Stegenga, Crime Prevention Officer with the Mesa Police Department.
A “Dementia Friendly Mesa” is a natural extension of the grant project because it further prepares law enforcement and the community to better respond to and support persons with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
The Mesa Police Department provides education on Alzheimer’s and related dementias to their staff and the community about how to respond when we have a missing endangered adult. They are specifically working to increase the number of persons enrolled in the Alzheimer’s Association’s MedicAlert + Safe Return program by paying the enrollment fees for new members until the grant funds are exhausted. If you are interested in more information on the MedicAlert program please call me at 480-644-5014 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Obtain an enrollment form at www.alz.org/care/dementia-medic-alert-safe-return.asp.
Sources available upon request.
Engaging the Community
A couple of months ago while working with Sgt. Robertson, he mentioned how rewarding it’s been working at Oakwood Day Club. “I contacted the director and started coming a few hours a week. It has been a great experience from the first day I met the Oakwood residents. The second time I came, a few of the residents remembered me and welcomed me back.”
“I have found they all still have the ability to interact with me, just in different ways. Some residents can have a full conversation with me while others can just answer with a few words. I can see the importance of keeping the residents engaged in activities and conversation. They have great stories and memories to share. They also remember when I miss my normal day and ask where I was. I have only been there for a couple months, but already feel I have friends waiting for me each week. I look forward to seeing the residents and hearing about their adventures since the last time we spoke.”
“A family friend lost his father to Alzheimer’s last year and it was difficult to see the quick deterioration of the father and how difficult it was for the family to deal with the constant help needed. The Oakwood facility is a great place for families to bring their loved ones for activities and conversation. Residents welcome each other as they arrive each morning and seem to have a caring connection with each other. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had.”
Alzheimer’s Disease Signs and Symptoms
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- Getting lost
- Trouble handling money and paying bills
- Repeating questions
- Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks
- Poor judgment
- Losing things or misplacing them in odd places
- Mood and personality changes
- Increased memory loss and confusion
- Problems recognizing family and friends
- Inability to learn new things
- Difficulty carrying out tasks that involve multiple steps (e.g. dressing, shaving, brushing teeth)
- Problems coping with new situations
- Hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia
- Impulsive behavior
- Confusion about time and place
- Difficulty finding appropriate words, completing sentences, or following conversations or directions
- Withdrawal and disinterest in usual activities
- Forgetting medication
- Not recognizing family or friends
- Not eating properly, not bathing, forgetting to do simple everyday routines