Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Why L.A. County is looking at tracking bracelets to help find Alzheimer’s patients who wander
Nancy Paulikas (center), a 56-year-old Manhattan Beach resident with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, has been missing since she wandered from a visit to LACMA on Oct. 15, 2016. Her disappearance prompted L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn to create a task force aimed at helping authorities more quickly find people with cognitive disorders who wander. While most who go missing are located, (including those pictured around Paulikas) some cases end in tragedy.
Life changed fast for Kirk Moody when his wife, Nancy Paulikas, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in October 2015.
The disease progressed so rapidly that, within months, Paulikas, a highly intelligent retired aerospace professional, had trouble communicating.
A year later, on Oct. 15, 2016, life changed again — this time in an instant. While the Manhattan Beach couple visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Paulikas became separated from her husband, walked out of the museum and vanished.
She was last seen on security footage walking west near Wilshire Boulevard and McCarthy Vista about 3 p.m.
Despite more than seven months of tireless efforts to find her, Paulikas, 56, remains missing. Authorities believe she is lost in the medical system, likely being cared for as a Jane Doe in a mystery nursing facility.
Her puzzling disappearance has prompted county officials to work toward improving coordination between law enforcement agencies and explore creating a voluntary program that would offer traceable bracelets to families with loved ones who have cognitive disorders making them prone to wandering.
If implemented, officials believe it would be the largest such program in the country, and a game-changer for families and law enforcement.
RECORD OF SUCCESS
The bracelets are just one idea being explored by the multiagency Bringing Our Loved Ones Home Task Force, which will meet for the third time next month.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose Fourth District takes in the South Bay beach cities, said she decided to form the group after meeting with Paulikas’ family and hearing about the success of a bracelet program in Glendale.
“I heard their heartbreak and frustration with everything, from how authorities respond, to how different agencies don’t speak to each other and how quickly someone could get out of Los Angeles County,” Hahn said.
Glendale, which has partnered with Project Lifesaver, a public safety nonprofit that provides the wristbands, has 16 people enrolled in its program, according to Sgt. Traci Fox of the Glendale Police Department.
When one goes missing, two police officers respond with equipment to triangulate a radio frequency signal emitted from the bracelet.
All seven times that has happened, the person was located, Fox said, most within 10 minutes.
“It’s kind of old-school technology, but it works very well,” she said.
Fox stressed that patients must agree to wear the bracelets and that the signal is only activated when police are notified that they’re missing.
While other bracelets use GPS technology, Glendale opted against them because the city has two significant dead zones.
With so much ground to cover, and such a variety of landscapes, the county could use different devices for different areas.
Hahn acknowledges that implementing the program on a such a massive scale will be challenging.
“It’s always our challenge and our benefit,” Hahn said. “We are large, we do have a lot of resources at our disposal, but also being so large, it’s going to be a unique program.”
L.A. County has more than 177,000 residents with Alzheimer’s disease. There’s also a large population of people with autism and other developmental disorders that make them susceptible to wandering.
There doesn’t appear to be a comprehensive tally of people who wander each year in the county or state, or estimates on how much municipalities spend on manpower or resources to find them.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 60 percent of people with Alzheimer’s or dementia will wander. If they aren’t located within 24 hours, half will suffer injuries or even death.
Just under half of children with autism will attempt to wander, according to the Interactive Autism Network.
‘A DAUNTING PROJECT’
How much a countywide bracelet program would cost, where funding could come from and just how challenging it would be to implement are the biggest questions the task force is researching.
In Glendale, families pay $375 for a bracelet, plus $100 a year for batteries to be changed every month and a half. Officers switch out the batteries, giving them an opportunity to check in with clients.
Hahn envisions finding subsidies to make the program more affordable.
“We would have to have something to assist low-income families with this,” she said. “We don’t want this to only work for people who can afford it.”
So far, the task force hasn’t identified a price tag.
“It’s definitely a daunting project and it’s going to be a challenge,” said Richard Franco, program manager for L.A. County Adult Protective Services, the lead agency on the task force. “Funding for any program is always a challenge, but we know this is a critical issue and the board is very much aware that this is something that needs to be addressed immediately.”
While the bracelets would be offered in areas served by the Sheriff’s Department, Franco said city police departments would be encouraged to start their own programs and that the county could offer incentives for them.
Originally, the task force was given a 60-day deadline to make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, but quickly realized it’ll take much longer than that to tackle such a complex problem.
“We started with 10 agencies, but the more we dig into this issue, it seems like there are so many other critical agencies that would provide good perspective,” Franco said.
Traceable devices are just one idea being explored.
The task force is finding ways to enhance public education on wandering prevention, and offering training for officers to understand how to identify and interact with patients. Officials also are looking at programs elsewhere, such as San Diego County’s Take Me Home Registry, a regularly updated database of photos of people with dementia, Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders who may wander.
One of the biggest aims is to improve communication and coordination between law enforcement agencies.
“What we’re finding quickly is there should be a central agency to facilitate the coordinated efforts of all the different key departments working here,” Franco said.
That was a frustration felt by Paulikas’ family in the days after she went missing.
The case was originally investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department, but was later assigned to police in Manhattan Beach.
At one point early on, Moody said that when he called for updates, both agencies told him the other was in charge.
“At the beginning, it was really a mess,” he said. “No one was really able to describe what was going to happen.”
When she disappeared, Paulikas was wearing a Medi-Alert bracelet engraved with her identification, diagnosis and emergency contact information. But the bracelets aren’t trackable. And in any case, Moody isn’t confident that his wife kept it on.
“On the back it said, ‘I’m Nancy and I have dementia,’ ” Moody said. “It was embarrassing for her, so she was prone to taking it off.”
SOME DON’T LIKE BRACELETS
That’s not uncommon for patients, according to Barbra McLendon, director of public policy for Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles.
And sometimes, people just don’t like wearing I.D. bracelets, traceable or not.
“Not everybody wants to wear one and it’s easy for them to take it off or to run into a situation where it’s removed for some reason by someone who doesn’t understand what it means,” said McLendon, who is part of the task force. “It’s not flawless.”
Still, she and other advocates are thrilled the county is stepping up efforts to address a problem that leaves so many families feeling helpless.
Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by DAILYBREEZE
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