John Silveira left St. Francis Assisted Living in Turlock sometime around noon Saturday, May 6, then returned to his home there the following Monday morning.
What prompted the 82-year-old, who has some dementia, to head back?
“He came back because he saw his picture on the television,” said son Bret Silveira. His dad realized people were worried about him and looking for him and figured he’d better return.
“That absolutely was from the hundreds of thousands of forwarded shares” of social-media posts that went up after his father went missing, said Silveira, a deputy with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department. He said he “can’t say enough” about how his department and other agencies and individuals, including the Turlock and Modesto police departments, quickly spread the word.
The main thing caregivers need to know is they’re not in this by themselves. Many of us in this area have gone through what they are and know the potholes in the road and ways to direct around them ... We offer support to the caregivers because it can be a lonely road to travel.
Jewell Key, Alzheimer/Dementia Support Center, Modesto
“How valuable social media is when used in the right way and the response from a community when these things happen is overwhelming,” Silveira said. “When you see something has happened, but say it’s in Nevada, pay attention anyway, and share it, because you never know. Did it help my dad? Absolutely ... It’s amazing to see a community come together.”
Six in 10 adults with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia will wander, as will 50 percent of people with autism spectrum disorders, according to information provided by MedicAlert and the Modesto Police Department. And with the oldest baby boomers now 71, incidents of wandering promise to rise as the generation ages.
To protect those at risk of wandering, the Police Department is offering a program to enroll local residents (and their caregivers) into the online MedicAlert national registry/database to receive a free medical ID bracelet, necklace or shoe tag and free 24/7 emergency support services. The Salida-based nonprofit MedicAlert reports a 98 percent success rate for locating missing people when its products and services are used.
The Alzheimer/Dementia Support Center of Modesto recommends MedicAlert bracelets or tags for not only dementia patients but for their caregivers, said center spokeswoman Jewell Kee. That way, if a caregiver is found in an emergency situation, responders will know there is an Alzheimer’s patient who may be unattended, she said.
Safe Return is about making sure caregivers not only are aware of resources available to them but have access to the support groups and other services that exist ... and a lot of times are free.
Justin Noland, MedicAlert
MedicAlert already has partnered with more than 100 law-enforcement agencies across the nation to safeguard those at risk of wandering, said Vice President Justin Noland. The nonprofit was working toward teaming with the MPD, he said, when a few recent incidents here “prompted us to say, ‘Let’s just move forward,’ ” he said.
So the Police Department and MedicAlert encourage family members of those with Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism and/or development disorders to go to the police station, 600 10th St., on May 25 between 2 and 6 p.m. to enroll their loved ones in one of two free services. Safe Return is a MedicAlert service in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association for those with dementia, while MedicAlert Found is for children and adults with autism spectrum and developmental disorders.
Safe Return and Found differ from standard MedicAlert services because they include a preventative aspect, Noland said. MedicAlert does outreach to ensure the caregivers understand wandering and prevention and have access to support groups and services offered by the Alzheimer’s Association and others.
And in the event someone does wander, MedicAlert opens its network and provides detailed information about the person to police departments and rescue agencies, Noland said. “Information going to emergency rooms, fire departments and paramedic organizations really broadens the scope,” he said.
It is imperative your neighbors know your loved one has some form of dementia and is not always responsible for his or her own decisions.
Jewell Key, noting that one safeguard against wandering is neighbor awareness
No system is foolproof, though. No matter the tag or bracelet a person is wearing, and the number of tweets and posts asking people to be on the lookout, a person has to be spotted to be saved. Family and friends of Modesto resident Gary Johnson, 74, learned that when on April 1 he walked away from the home he shared with his older brother, who was his caregiver.
A Silver Alert was issued. Social media posts were made and shared. Fliers were posted near and far. For weeks, searchers searched. But no solid reports of sightings came in, and on May 2, a golfer spotted Johnson’s body in the Stanislaus River in Ripon.
To track, or not to track?
A GPS tracking device may have helped in a case like Johnson’s. We’ll never know.
But Noland said MedicAlert is “not about chips and things that track people. We haven’t found a partner or product that functions well enough to provide or recommend it.”
Some other organizations warn against an over-reliance on tracking technology.
Bret Silveira suspects that his dad, who “has some wherewithal” about him, would not want a tracking device and would manage to take one off. After all, he did climb a fence to leave the care facility where he lives.
If his father persisted in wandering, which Silveira said he does not think will be the case, then he and his siblings might have to look at moving him to a locked-down facility.
You want to make sure they’re happy where they are. They’re no different than any other person – if they’re unhappy, they will try to get away.
Bret Silveira, sharing advice to people who have loved ones with dementia
Kee said some families buy wristwatches or necklaces with tracking chips in them, with the patient none the wiser. Another product, the SmartSole, is sealed in an insole that slips into a shoe.
Her own husband liked to walk but fortunately never wandered, Kee said. As precautions, though, he wore a tag engraved with his name, phone number and the word “Alzheimer’s.”
Why the wandering?
It can be difficult, nearly impossible, to know what’s going on in the mind of someone with dementia, Kee said. Unfortunately, half the time, they don’t know themselves, she said.
But “almost any Alzheimer’s or dementia patient is subject to wandering, and my thought is they’re looking for home,” Kee said. “They really don’t know where they belong by the time they start wandering and they’re looking for something even they don’t know what it is.”
John Silveira simply was looking for a bit of freedom, it seems. Though he doesn’t live in a lockdown facility, “the more we talked with him, the more we reflected on what happened, we think he felt kind of trapped,” Bret Silveira said.
Silveira and his brothers have worked out a plan with St. Francis Assisted Living. It includes things like John Silveira going across the street to the store when he feels like it. Having a designated friend whom he can go stay with for a night on planned dates. “Measures to make him feel a little more free,” Bret Silveira said, “to let him do what he can do with his level of dementia.
“There’s no manual on how you treat someone who has dementia. We hope this will help him mentally and emotionally.”
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327
Tips for caregivers
Some rules of thumb from A Place for Mom (aplaceformom.com) that could help prevent cases of wandering:
▪ An elderly person with occasional bouts of confusion may require less supervision, but caregivers still must be careful about leaving such seniors alone.
▪ Loved ones of seniors at risk of wandering can notify trusted neighbors in a block radius, introducing them to the senior if feasible.
▪ Seniors with serious wandering problems can’t be safely left alone and require constant supervision.
▪ Care teams made of visiting caregivers, family, and even kindly neighbors can help provide companionship and provide supervision to seniors who wander.
▪ To keep a loved one from wandering away at night, consider house adaptations such as “hard-to-reach slide bolts for doors or doors disguised with hanging towels” according to Dave Baldridge, Executive, Director of International Association for Indigenous Aging.
▪ Explore monitoring and tracking technologies, but don’t become over-reliant on them.
▪ Valley Mountain Regional Center, 1820 Blue Gum Ave., Modesto; 209-529-2626; www.autismspeaks.org/resource/valley-mountain-regional-center-vmrc