Tuesday, September 04, 2007

9/4/07 Aging Persons with Alzheimer’s and Dementia: What You Should Know, Part II

Search and Rescue a Valuable Partner

Both families utilized area search and rescue teams. Dana Ames, co-founder of United Response Search and Rescue Team, a Texas-based organization, recommends use of a variety of search efforts, depending on the situation, including:

Foot Search Team
Air-scenting and trailing dogs
Man trackers
Emergency Medical Technicians
Technical rescue specialists
Swift Water Rescue Specialists
Certified Dive Team with side scan sonar
Mounted Horse Search Team
4-Wheelers/ATV’s Search Team
Air/Pilot Search Team
Ham Radio Communication Team

Dana says: “Our organization will provide these services so that no family will ever have to suffer alone while faced with such an unexpected tragic event. We will do this with compassion, dedication, professionalism, and expediency. Our primary objective will always be the safe return of a missing loved one to their family.”

Families of the missing and law enforcement (LE) need to know that search and rescue (SAR) teams do their work for free. Getting the proper assistance involved quickly can mean the difference between having a resolved case or a cold case. The first 24 hours is critical as 46% of missing elderly will be found deceased after this window due to their physical condition and/or the elements.

Brad Dennis, Director of Search Operations for the KlaasKids Foundation, outlines typical behaviors exhibited by a missing person with Alzheimer or dementia:

Usually (89%) found within one mile of the Point Last Seen (PLS), half found within 0.5 miles.

Subject usually found a short distance from road (50% within 33 yards)

Subject may attempt to travel to former residence or favorite place.

Subject will not leave many physical clues.

Will not cry-out for help (1%) or respond to shouts (only 1% response rate).

Succumbs to the environment (hypothermia, drowning, and dehydration).

“They go until they get stuck.”

Subject usually found in a creek, or drainage and/or caught in briars/bushes (63%)

Leaves own residence or nursing home, possibly with last sighting on a roadway. May cross or depart from roads (67%).

Coexisting medical problems that limit mobility are common.

Has previous history of wandering (72%)

They appear to lack the ability to turn around.

Brad suggests these search strategies for the SAR teams and LE:

Quickly establish the point the person was last seen at (called the PLS). Utilize specialists trained as man trackers and trailing dogs from the PLS.

Deploy specially trained air scenting dog teams in drainages and streams surrounding the PLS.

Set up containment based upon the time the subject disappeared and the approximate distance the subject may have traveled. Containment ensures your subject remains inside your search area.

Thoroughly search the residence/nursing home and surrounding grounds and buildings.

Search heavy briars and bushes and remind searchers frequently about this.

Dog teams and ground sweep teams will expand their search from the PLS.

Air scent dog teams and ground sweep teams should search at least 100 meters parallel to roadways.

Search nearby previous home sites, work sites and other pertinent areas historically significant to the lost subject.

Brad emphasizes the need for swift reaction in these cases: “Law Enforcement, caregivers and family members need to respond quickly by conducting search operations. There are search and rescue units, volunteer rescue squads and search and rescue K-9 teams available to assist in the search for wanderers. These units are typically volunteer, non-profit organizations that dedicate themselves to help search for and locate missing persons. Many different sources exist to help identify, notify and connect you with trained, qualified units in your area. The KlaasKIDS Foundation has its own search and rescue unit that can assist you or serve as a referral network to connect you with teams in your area. The National Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR) provides valuable training and a network of qualified teams.”

Just last week, a SAR team from the east coast found a missing elderly woman using dogs within 15 minutes of being dispatched by the local LE. Because of the fast action of all involved parties, the family, LE, and the SAR team, the woman was found safe.

One Solution

Organizations which were created specifically to support families with a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia also take steps to prevent and resolve the situation in which Byron and Shirley’s families have found themselves.

Bobby Hunt, Shirley’s husband, urges families caring for a loved one to get an ID bracelet such as the one developed by Project Lifesaver, which includes a tracking device.

Katherine Healey Flores, Director of Program Development for Project Lifesaver, explains how these devices work:

“People enrolled in the Project Lifesaver program wear a transmitter, approximately the size of a large watch that has a personalized radio frequency and cellular signal. When caregivers notify us, the local agency responds to the area last seen and begins searching for the individual. PLI has over 1550 searches- with safe returns -to their loved ones in 30 minutes or less. This has reduced search times from days to a matter of minutes by assigned public safety agencies.

PLI works with local law enforcement agencies in more than 575 communities in 41 states and Canada to protect some of society's most vulnerable citizens. Our goal is to be able to offer the program to every community in the United States.

Anyone interested is starting a local Project Lifesaver program in their area are asked to contact us at the PLI headquarters in Chesapeake, Virginia and we will be happy to provide them with all the information and support that they need. 757-546-5502.”

Project Lifesaver has been instrumental in numerous successful recoveries, including the recent case of a woman in Ohio who was found within 20 minutes because of the tracking device.

Go to Part III


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