According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six of ten people with dementia will wander. We’ve all seen the lighted highway signs: “Missing Elderly” with a license number and description of the car. As I write this Hal Ticknor is still missing, last seen October 11 driving his Chevy out of his driveway, was found by hunters on 11/29 in his car near Seymour, 180 miles northwest of his home in Garland, Tx. Silver Alerts expire when no more leads are found. I know how frantic Mr. Ticknor’s family is, because I experienced a similar, albeit much shorter, incident last year.
I was busy grading papers near the end of the semester and against my better judgment let Bill drive to Dallas to get a minor repair at the Volvo dealer. He assured me he knew where he was going, and he promised to go straight there and straight back. Besides, he had his cell phone with him. I let him go and settled in for a quiet afternoon of grading papers, but with one eye on the clock.
Calculating drive time to and from the dealership and time there for a quick adjustment to the bumper cover by the body shop I guessed he’d be gone about three hours. At the four hour mark I called him, but he didn’t answer.
Checking my email I saw those alerts from Chase telling me the debit card had been used. I saw that he had been to the Whole Foods Market on Preston Road in Plano, and a little while later a charge popped up at the REI store across the street.
Christmas shopping. Bill loves to shop–always has–so I didn’t worry, but I did call him. This time he answered.
“I’m just doing a little Christmas shopping. I should be home in an hour.”
At this point I was still too naive about dementia to be really concerned. But when more than two hours passed and he wasn’t home–and wasn’t answering the phone–I called my friend in the police department for advice.
As he was explaining how a Silver Alert works I saw another debit card alert pop up–this time from Walmart. I mentioned the store number and my friend said “That’s not a Denton Walmart.”
Now we’re concerned. I got on the Walmart website, searched the store number and discovered it was in McKinney–32 miles east of here, and a good 10 miles east of where he should have turned west to come home.
My officer friend called the McKinney PD with the description of the car and the tags, explained the situation, and gave them instructions to hold him and call me if they found him. In the meantime, I was to find a friend to go with me, since one of us needed to drive the Volvo home.
I waited. Now I’m nervous. Forget grading papers. My friend called me back and said McKinney PD searched the entire area around the Walmart and couldn’t find him. I thanked him, but before we hung up another debit card alert popped up. This was for a liquor store near The Colony–which meant he was headed in the right direction. I hung up with instructions to call my friend the minute Bill came home, and started pacing the floor. It wasn’t long before he pulled up, grinning from ear to ear and bearing treats and Christmas presents.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t mad and upset. Poor Bill–he never did find the Volvo dealership, either. That was when I knew he couldn’t drive anywhere outside of Denton.
Since then we’ve had a few brief incidents–he got lost walking the dog and a kind neighbor came by the house to pick me up and take me to him. The dog had slipped her leash and he didn’t know what to do.
Then recently I found out he had a set of keys to the truck and had been driving himself to the Denton Senior Center, which would be OK except he no longer has a driver’s license, and his getting lost in familiar Denton is the reason I clamped down on his driving.
Thanks to the MedicAlert Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program I now have a little more peace of mind.
Bill and I now have matching MedicAlert bracelets with a purple logo to differentiate them from the standard red MedicAlert bracelets. I ordered them through the Alzheimer’s Association because it’s a nationwide service for people with dementia, and their caregivers.
The back of Bill’s bracelet simply says “MEMORY IMPAIRED ” and “My name is Bill.” It has the toll-free number (800-625-3780) and his member ID number on it. He also has a wallet card. If he gets lost again, or has a medical emergency, a call to that number will activate the network, which includes notifying me. They even have his medical information and prescription medicines on file. A large refrigerator magnet has the phone number, Bill’s ID number, and instructions.
My bracelet is the caregiver’s bracelet, looks just like his, but on the back side says “CAREGIVER FOR ___” with his member ID number and the toll-free number. If something happens to me, emergency responders and hospital staff will know I care for someone, and will activate the network.
I decided to get a bracelet for myself after hearing about a caregiver who was transported to the hospital, and the person she cared for was left alone for three days. I can’t take the chance on that happening.
I wasn’t sure he’d be happy about wearing the bracelet. He claims he doesn’t wander, and hasn’t gotten lost “in years” but I know better. So I showed him both bracelets and explained that I wanted him to wear his because I love him and don’t want anything to happen to him if he gets lost. Then I showed him mine and explained that if something happened to me, somebody would come take care of him until I got home.
He looked at both bracelets and held them and said “Wow, these are really neat. What a great idea.” I put his on and adjusted it to fit comfortably. He keeps admiring it, and turning it up so it’s visible next to his watch. He wants to look at mine often, and proudly showed his off to some friends at church this morning.
I pray he won’t wander off or get lost again, just like I pray Mr. Ticknor is found safe prayed for Mr. Ticknor and his family. This bracelet won’t keep anybody from wandering, but it will provide additional peace of mind for anyone who loves someone with dementia.