Program helps Alzheimer's, dementia patients find their way home

Alzheimer's Association provides information to families

By Patty Santos - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - The search for a missing South Bexar County man with early stages of Alzheimer’s is raising concerns about how unprepared some families with dementia patients may be for a worst-case scenario.

Ginny Funk, director of programs and advocacy with the Alzheimer’s Association San Antonio, said having a loved one wander off can happen to anyone at any time, no matter how careful a caregiver is. 

“If the person with Alzheimer’s or dementia is not found within 48 hours of being reported missing, the percentage of them being harmed, not found or found deceased is extremely high,” he said.

Fink urges every family that walks into her office to sign up for the MedicAlert Safe Return program. It’s a national live 24-hour emergency response center that helps connect those lost with their loved ones.

Members wear a medical bracelet or necklace that connects the person who locates the patient with a toll-free number. The agency, in turn, locates the caregiver or police. A caregiver can also wear a bracelet to alert first responders that they’re responsible for someone.

“Wandering and driving are at the top of the list for it being the most dangerous and scary,” Fink said. “It’s easy to be in denial about this because we wouldn’t want this to happen. It can happen to anyone.”

Some 1,700 people in San Antonio are signed up with MedicAlert. Nationwide, there are about 220,500 people signed up. The company said since the program started in 1993, it has helped facilitate the return of 17,000 people.

The San Antonio Police Department and the Bexar County Sheriff's Office both require a recent photo, medical records and other information when they file a missing person’s report.

MedicAlert would be able to speed up that process for families with a missing loved one.

Funk said statistics show that six out of 10 people who suffer from dementia wander off at some point. She is working with SAPD to help train new cadets on how to handle cases involving dementia patients.

The program is not associated with law enforcement. There is a $55 fee for new members, and there is also an option of obtaining an ID for the caregiver for an additional $35. The annual renewal fee is $35. Call 888-572-8566 for additional information.

The San Antonio Alzheimer’s Association can also help provide more information and possible assistance for families that cannot afford it.

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