Since 1996, many of us have heard the phrase “...it takes a village...” used in discussions regarding the care and upbringing of children. This phrase, often attributed to women in African villages, can also be applied to the work of protecting and safeguarding a community’s residents who are living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. It is not possible for law enforcement officers and other first responders to be everywhere at all times. Members of a community can play a critical role in helping to protect their neighbors, customers, etc. who are living with Alzheimer’s and may at some point wander away from their home or become separated from their loved ones, become lost and at risk of serious injury or death.
The Alzheimer’s Aware “holistic” protocols strongly recommend that law enforcement agencies take steps to not only engage community groups — senior life centers, businesses frequented by seniors, faith-based organizations, neighborhood organizations, etc. — but also educate these groups in how to effectively protect seniors and work with public safety organizations to distribute informational materials and help maintain a local registry of persons at risk of wandering.
There are many ways that community members, citizen groups, businesses and service organizations can act today to protect vulnerable members of their communities and support caregivers, law enforcement and first responders. First steps often come through education. Members of a community can take steps to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A wealth of information can be found on our Resources Page regarding Alzheimer’s disease, statistics for each state on the prevalence of the disease, and links and contact info to national, regional and local resources.
In addition to learning all you can about Alzheimer's and gathering information on efforts in a particular area, Alzheimer’s Aware encourages the development of relationships within the community to raise awareness of the dangers of wandering and build coalitions to address concerns around the disease and the impact it can have on a community. Making contact with your local law enforcement agency and learning more about its efforts, and how individuals or organizations can support in those efforts, will go a long way in building capacity in your community. Are local businesses receiving materials to instruct their employees on what behaviors exhibited by customers should be recognized as related to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia? Do they know who to contact for assistance if they encounter someone who may have wandered? Again, how can you assist or encourage awareness efforts to "spread-the-word" and support others as they learn about the disease?
Six out of ten people with Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia will wander, either on foot, by car, or by another form of transportation. If you or someone you know is a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia we encourage you to prepare now for this unfortunate eventuality. Complete (or encourage caregivers to complete) an Adult ID Kit and have it on hand to provide to law enforcement, in the event that you need to report the person in your care missing. If you own or represent a local business (particularly one that provides a service to those with Alzheimer’s disease or their caregivers) have the Adult ID Kit available to distribute.
Community groups can also support local law enforcement efforts in the event of an incidence of wandering of an individual with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Interested individuals are encouraged to contact their local law enforcement agency to see if training or volunteer opportunities exist to support search efforts or to engage the public on how searches are conducted and how to spread the word when a search is underway. If your local law enforcement agency maintains a registry for those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia look for ways that your group can promote this resource to the larger community or help keep the information updated and current.
Finally, but not of least importance, recognize that support of local initiatives and research into treatments and cures of the disease require funding and support. If you are part of a community group searching for ways to help you are encouraged to contact local providers and nonprofits to lend your support. These organizations can be found through the Resources Tab or through this link for State and Area Agencies on Aging. Additional volunteer opportunities can be found through the Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s Foundation.