Small wander: database traces missing dementia sufferers
Traumatic incident leads woman to start first-of-its-kind database to find 'wandering' relatives with Alzheimer's
Just more than a year ago, Gael Meek Baltimore’s mother “went wandering”.
“It was a moment of sheer panic, a moment when your smarts all but leave you, and an immensely stressful moment that seems to last forever,” Meek Baltimore said.
Her mother, who suffers from advanced vascular dementia, was found disorientated and dishevelled at the Montclair train station in Durban the next evening.
“She left our home on Austerville Drive, walked the entire night, and Lord knows what and who she encountered as she has no memory of that awful awful night!”
The horrifying experience led Meek Baltimore to partner with the police and social workers in Wentworth, south of Durban, to create a first-of-its-kind database to help authorities locate the families of residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease when they go missing.“Wandering, in people with dementia or Alzheimer’s, is a common behaviour that can cause great risk for the person, and is often the major priority and concern for caregivers, as we have found out. Some people living with the disease are known to walk great distances with no need for rest, water or food,” Meek Baltimore told Times Select.
The database – which contains the most recent photograph of the patient, their date of birth, home address and next of kin’s contact details – can only be accessed by the police and Wentworth Hospital staff.
“The database would assist the police in speedily identifying and locating a loved one who has wandered and are most likely lost, disorientated, confused, scared and sometimes aggressive, and then connecting them to their next of kin or caregiver,” Meek Baltimore said.
She said the database would also create synergy between hospitals and the police in the event the patient is hurt and can’t respond to any questions.“Also, with the training from Alzheimer’s South Africa, I truly believe the police would be better equipped to not only defuse volatile family situations usually derived from the condition, but also how to ‘handle’ such a person.”
Alzheimer’s SA executive director Petra du Toit was unaware of the initiative, but commended it.
“Overall it is a very good initiative because people do walk around and go missing. It’s actually a big problem. Fortunately, we try to advise families how to take care of their loved ones, but when it does happen, obviously it’s very stressful.”According to Statistics South Africa, at least 2.2 million people in SA live with dementia, which is characterised by failing memory and impaired cognitive functioning.
Dementia is the umbrella term for various of kinds of diseases of the brain, one of which is Alzheimer’s.
“Most people diagnosed with dementia have Alzheimer’s . We need to make people all over the country aware of this disease. It is growing and is here to stay. There is no cure at the moment. It is so important that one knows about the disease so they can get the support from our organisation and get in touch with our medical partners,” Du Toit said.