Looking out for Those with Alzheimers
Police say it's an unfortunate coincidence. Two older men with Alzheimer's or a similar condition recently wandered away or drove away from their homes and were found in different cities. In the most recent case, James Woodard was found in Hillsborough County after he was last seen at Shands dropping off his wife.
Alachua County Sheriff's Deputy Leo Lowe says it's difficult to say why people with Alzheimer's wander.
"Some people theorize that it could be related to certain conditions," he says. "But it's really pretty random."
Another mystery is what doctors refer to as "sundowning," when those with Alzheimer's or dementia may wander off around sunset, sometimes even hiding. Ken Heilman is a James E. Rooks Distinguished Professor and practicing neurologist who researches the brain activity of Alzheimer's patients.
"The idea that as the sun goes down, certain animals howl and hoot," he says. "And if you come into a place where there are a lot of demented individuals, you'll hear people yelling and hallucinating and many, many other things."
Heilman also says scientists still don't know the cause of sundowning. But to help prevent wandering, the Alachua County Sheriff's Office operates Project Lifesaver. Deputies then give radio frequency bracelets to anyone who has wandered in the past so they can be tracked. Once a month, the deputies will come to Al'z Place in Gainesville to locate clients and change the battery in their wristband.
Deputy Lowe also has some advice for family members of those with Alzheimer's:
"You should immediately start limiting their ability to get out by themselves. Maybe put some locks on the doors, try to keep them inside."
In addition, Lowe says you can leave notes with gentle reminders to stay in the house on doors and windows. And, of course, doctors recommend plenty of activity to ward off boredom.
Sheriff's deputies ask for a donation of $300 to register a family member with a wristband, but they also have a scholarship program for those who can't afford it.
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