Alzheimer’s Walk-Aways From Care Givers More Common

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The Sacramento Sheriffs Department continues to look for 70-year-old Charles Jones who disappeared from the Sky Park Gardens assisted living facility in south Sacramento Tuesday morning.

He suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and requires daily medication. The Sheriff’s Department says it’s the fourth walk-away at the facility in the last six months.

The Alzheimer’s Association says the problem is likely to get worse as more baby boomers get older.  One in three seniors are projected to die of the disease.

“Six out of ten persons with Alzheimer’s disease will have a tendency to wander,” said Denise Davis, program director of the Northern California/Nevada Alzheimer’s Association.

Phyllis Fields lives at Sky Park Gardens.  She does not have Alzheimer’s but says many of the residents in the fenced facility do.  She says the automated gate at the parking lot moves slowly.

“They wander out that door and there they go,” said Fields.

She says the staff does the best they can and says it’s a good place to live.  She wears an emergency transmitter that can locate her during an emergency, but the Davis says walk-aways often don’t know they’re lost.

“They might decide to go on a walk or wake up one morning and think that it’s time for them to go to work even if they’ve been retired let’s say for 20 years.  It’s a problem,” said Davis.

Residents at any living facility are not allowed to be locked in because of fire safety concerns and personal rights.  But staff members are still supposed to monitor Alzheimer’s patients and either shadow them when the leave or redirect walk-aways back to the facility.

A Department of Social Services inspector visited the facility on Wednesday.  A spokesman says all walk-away incidents are investigated and facilities can be cited and asked to take corrective action.

Davis recommends that care givers, whether family members or paid personnel, prepare for Alzheimer’s patients to walk away because their behavior is unpredictable.  That includes having a recent photo of them, knowing the places they frequent, and not waiting until they’re missing for 24 hours before going to law enforcement.

She says there’s a good chance that walk-aways can be found safely after 24 hours, but they are a high risk.

“Sometimes they’re able to find their way back, and sometimes they don’t,” said Davis.

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