It's Never Too Early, But It Can Be Too Late

Elizabeth Bravo Santiago

Director of Wanderer's Safety Program

It’s never too early to enroll in the MedicAlert® NYC Wanderer’s Safety Program, but it can be too late. During the winter I received a call from a Mrs. J inquiring about MedicAlert NYC for her husband. She wanted to know about the program and how it works.

MedicAlert NYC is an annual subscription service that provides caregivers and individuals with dementia the ability to create and manage their personal health record while maintaining security, privacy, and confidentiality. Every member is given a personalized stainless steel medical identification bracelet that provides first responders with critical information regarding medical conditions or any life-threatening allergies, as well as access to MedicAlert’s 24/7 emergency hotline number.

Alzheimer’s disease destroys brain cells which are responsible for memory, thinking, and behavior. Due to these changes, a person living with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia can become disoriented in familiar surroundings and get lost at any time. We know that six out of ten people will wander and become lost.

Since a wandering incident can occur at any stage of the disease, as a precaution I told Mrs. J it’s never too early to enroll Mr. J into the MedicAlert NYC and become prepared in the event that he wandered. I offered to enroll her husband over the phone. However, Mrs. J declined and said that she would wait because he was not currently wandering and always came back from his regular walks.
Several weeks went by and I received a call from a very upset Mrs. J. While at the doctor’s office, she left her husband in the waiting room and asked him to stay there until she completed her routine checkup.

When Mrs. J returned to the waiting room, Mr. J was not there. She looked in the men’s room and adjacent waiting rooms, but he was nowhere to be found. While we were on the phone, Mrs. J told me she regretted putting off her husband's enrollment into the program, and that because he often misplaced his wallet, he currently did not have any identification on him. I reassured her that we would assist the police department in the search of her husband, and do everything we could to help find him. I am sure that some of you can relate to putting things off until tomorrow. But sometimes tomorrow can be too late.

A person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia should always have some form of identification on them. Staying safe becomes increasingly important as the disease progresses and the person’s abilities begin to change.

The MedicAlert bracelet contains vital identification information, and is also difficult for a person to take off on their own. Here are some steps you can take to help you protect the person you care for:

  • Please visit or call our 24-hour Helpine at 646-744-2900 to enroll.

  • Keep a record of the member’s identification number and the 1-800-625-3780 24-hour hotline number.

  • Take a photograph of the person you are enrolling. Keep this new photo on your phone or computer. During the enrollment process you will need to provide MedicAlert NYC with a current picture of the member. This picture will be provided to police if there is a wandering incident.

  • Keep an article of the person’s worn, unwashed clothing in a plastic bag to aid in finding him or her with the use of dogs in the event that the person wanders. However, in order for this to be most effective, change the article every 30 days.

  • Let neighbors and friends in your community know the person you care for is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia and has a tendency to wander, and if they see the person wandering to please contact you immediately.

There is a fee to enroll. But thanks to the generosity of City Council members, the Schnurmacher Foundation, the Helen J. Hoffritz Charitable Trust, the Warner Foundation and other donors, we can provide enrollment scholarships, so no New Yorker is turned away because of inability to pay. Please make the call or visit our website to find out more about this lifesaving program.

Mr. J. was found and safely returned home, and Mrs. J. enrolled him in MedicAlert NYC the very next day. She didn’t want another wandering incident without the protection that the program provides.

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