What Makes the MedicAlert® NYC Wanderer's Safety Program Unique?
By Elizabeth Bravo Santiago, Director of Wanderer's Safety Program
Part of our mission statement is to create, deliver, and promote comprehensive and compassionate care and support services for individuals and families affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Since there has been an increase in the number of persons in the baby boomer generation diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias, there has also been an increase in the number of people who wander and become lost.
Although some individuals can get lost during the early stage of the disease, it is during the middle stage of the disease when memory and cognitive problems make it increasingly difficult for the person diagnosed to organize one's thoughts, leading to disorientation and a greater likelihood for wandering.
At CaringKind we have created a simple and unique low-tech program called MedicAlert® NYC Wanderer’s Safety Program for persons who wander near or far. Persons with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia who enroll in the program receive identification jewelry engraved with their name and medical information and the 24-hour MedicAlert Emergency Hotline number (800-625-3780) for emergency responders to call when the person is found. Caregivers are also eligible to enroll in the program and receive their own identification jewelry that, in the event they experience their own medical emergency, indicates to first responders that they are a caregiver for a person with dementia. The Wanderer's Safety Program will then contact the people the caregiver has designated to assist with care while the caregiver recovers. This program gives caregivers some peace of mind.
You might wonder how exactly the program works. If and when a person goes missing, we ask the person who is reporting the incident to search the immediate area. If the person is not found within minutes then we advise them to dial 911. Do not leave the site where the person went missing. When the police arrive, be prepared to give a description of the person, including their physical characteristics and clothing description. If you have a current picture of the missing person on your phone show it to the police officer. This will help with their search efforts.
Once the police have completed canvassing the area they will call the MedicAlert Emergency Hotline and provide a detailed missing person incident report. An incident report is generated and automatically sent to the MedicAlert NYC Wanderer’s Safety Program staff, who then follow up with the caregivers and assist the police department in locating the missing person. We activate a missing person’s bulletin, which is sent to 258 recipients, including local New York City Police, hospitals, and other emergency responders throughout the five boroughs and neighboring counties. We also send the missing person’s information to the media, if the family has given permission.
During this stressful and emotional situation, the Wanderer’s Safety Program team will provide the caregiver with necessary support, deep understanding, and a compassionate ear until the missing person is found. We listen carefully to what the caregiver has to say, and remind them to remain hydrated and take their medications. If necessary, we will contact other family and friends on their behalf so they don’t have to feel alone during this traumatic time.
If you are a donor who is contemplating where you would like to make a difference, the Wanderer’s Safety Program is without a doubt a program that has proven to be successful.
On average we work on five to seven missing cases a week. We enroll approximately 130 people into our program on a monthly basis. We have a 99 percent success rate in finding persons during a missing person incident throughout the five boroughs. And after every closed case, we provide ongoing support to the caregiver. The families are referred to our Social Work Services and Helpline departments so they can provide the necessary resources to the caregivers and help them create a safe long-term care plan.
I remember a caregiver by the name Maria saying, “I can only imagine what could have happened to Mom if your program did not exist. Please pass along my extreme gratitude to all involved in helping her return safely. Your organization and the caring people who staff it are not only a vital part of my peace of mind, but you offer hope to many other caregivers as well.”
You can go to caringkindnyc.org/wandersafety to read more about the MedicAlert NYC Wanderer’s Safety Program. If you have any questions, please call 646-744-2900.