CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Six out of ten people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease will wander away from loved ones at some point. The staggering statistic is part of the reason the Alzheimer’s Association of Western North Carolina teams up with CMPD’s Missing Persons Unit to help get results for families dealing with this devastating diagnosis.
Detective Mary Wood knows what the disease does to families. Her grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
“Having seen it in my own life you realize the toll it takes on everyone. Alzheimer’s is a heartbreaking diagnosis. It doesn’t affect one person but the entire family and it can put a lot of stress on caretakers,” said Wood. Every case that comes across her desk matters.
The disease causes people to lose their ability to recognize familiar places and people. For many families it is not a matter of if, but when a loved one will walk away.
“Just think for a moment that could be your loved one missing,” said Redia Baxter with the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Baxter and Wood work together to make sure families have the tools to navigate the process if someone goes missing.
“The most crucial thing with us is time with an Alzheimer’s wandering case,” explained Wood who says be prepared to call 911 immediately.
“Dispatch is going to ask height, weight, eye color, hair color, and if they left in a vehicle,” said Wood. It’s important to write all of basic descriptors down including make and model of vehicles and license plates. If you have this information written down somewhere it will be easy to give it to first responders. Wood says caregivers are often and understandably emotional when they call 911. The call to 911 starts the process to issue a silver alert so more people can know about your missing loved one.
She also suggests keeping an updated picture of your loved one. It can be a hard copy or on your cell phone.
“Considering wandering is a common behavior it just makes sense for us to have this relationship. CMPD can provide support and education for families,” said Baxter.
Every 65 seconds someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in America. In North Carolina, 170,000 people live with the disease and twice as many serve as caregivers. Right now, there is no cure for the disease.
“We want people to know they are not alone in this,” said Wood.
Resources are available for families with loved ones living with the disease. Click here to learn more.