KAMLOOPS - When police find someone with dementia lost in the community, it isn’t always easy figuring out where home is, but a program through MedicAlert called Safely Home can solve the mystery quickly.
Tara Hildebrand, the provincial support and educational coordinator with the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C., says the program allows for quick identification of someone who may not be able to communicate well.
“The MedicAlert bracelet alerts people about an issue,” she says. “If someone has Alzheimer’s or dementia and gets confused and lost, someone notices the bracelet and can call medic alert.”
She says the program is a lot like the original MedicAlert program and a child identification field kit.
Cpl. Jodi Shelkie with the Kamloops RCMP says the program allows police to quickly identify people they find or understand who they’re looking for.
“We always check for bracelets on people, especially if they can’t articulate well, or if we can’t understand what they’re saying,” Shelkie says. “Sometimes family members don’t even know someone has gone wandering in the middle of the night.”
She says when this happens police may arrive, find a person with dementia and then not know where to turn to next.
The Safely Home program had been run by the Alzheimers Society of B.C., but moved to MedicAlert over the last three years when communication issues became a too much of a burden for the society, says Hildebrand. Because MedicAlert has people monitoring lines constantly she says it works better than the previous partnership with police.
Hildebrand sees the program as one more way to keep people with dementia or Alzheimers safe. People with dementia aren’t always prone to get lost, but when they do it’s not always the same as someone else who is lost.
“They get lost differently from most people,” she says. “Where they believe they are going, that place might not exist anymore.”
Hildebrand says the way they travel may be different as well.
“They don’t take the path of least resistance. A person with dementia will head out in a straight line,” she says.
As an example she says most people would look for a bridge to cross a river, but a person with dementia may head directly into the water.
While Hildebrand isn’t sure how many people with dementia are in the city, she estimates there are about 70,000 in the province, though it’s hard to give an accurate answer because many people may have the early stages and not report it.
She would like to see more people learn about dementia as she sees a lot of misconceptions. She runs programs for a variety of people on Alzhemiers and related issues, for family to emergecy workers.
"If the police were to contact me and say 'Hey, can you do a workshop on dementia?' I’d say absolutely," she says. "We do have a workshop designed specifically for the public sector when it comes to fire, police and search and rescue."
Hildebrand encourages people concerned about family members with Alzheimers or other forms of dementia to get in contact with her for information on the Safely Home program or support groups. She can be reached at email@example.com or 250-377-8200.
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