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Sheriff’s Office eyes registry for Alzheimer’s, dementia patients

November 14, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a four-part series exploring the effect of Alzheimer’s and dementia on the community.

BULLHEAD CITY — The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office intends to set up a registry for Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients that could help deputies and other searchers locate these missing people more quickly and more efficiently interact with them.

Sheriff Doug Schuster said he’d like to have such a registry started next spring.

Loved ones of children and adults with autism, Down syndrome and developmental disabilities could add information about their family members or wards.

The idea for a registry was being considered by volunteers with MCSO Search and Rescue following the massive search for Jeremy Duncan in June. The Bullhead City boy, only about a month shy of his 8th birthday, was autistic and loved water. He ran from his home on a Saturday morning and was found drowned in the Colorado River early the next day.

Search and Rescue members began to think about starting a registry for youths and adults with autism and Down syndrome, with the goal of helping searchers find missing people with conditions that can cause wandering, said Amanda Kaufman, commander of MCSO Search and Rescue’s Kingman unit.

“We’d have the ability to record, then get that information right away,” she said.

Family members said later that Duncan really enjoyed the water, which is the case for many people with autism. He also was a fast runner. That type of personal information could be included in a registry entry, allowing searchers to better plan their efforts.

People with Alzheimer’s or dementia might be attempting to reach a place they once lived or frequented. Trying to go somewhere where they enjoyed engaging in a specific activity or finding the place where they can do it now are common reasons for wandering by people with cognitive and developmental disorders.

Wandering also can be linked to hallucinations or simply be aimless, according to health care professionals.

Schuster said it has been decided that it would be worthwhile for the MCSO to offer a countywide registry focused on a range of illnesses and characteristics.

“What we would do is come up with a feasible mechanism to put in place and encourage cities to participate. We don’t want to step on any toes,” Schuster said. “We believe it’s important to afford families the opportunity to reach out — in every one of the cities.”

Bullhead City has its own police department but residents could submit information to the MCSO registry.

Since the idea arose, Schuster has been looking at existing registries such as Take Me Home, a program set up by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

The Chandler Police Department has had a registry for several years called Return Me Safe.

The program is designed to help locate wandering individuals with forms of dementia as well as autism, Down syndrome and other conditions who fall under what the Chandler police department refers to on its website as “vulnerable population.”

“Alzheimer’s patients tend to focus on certain things when they go missing,” said Seth Tyler, media relations for the Chandler Police Department. “Having that information aids in our searches.”

One method used to locate missing people with such issues can include reverse 911 messages directed toward places where they might go.

Chandler has a large senior population and, with the population growing, being able to properly handle an anticipated increase in the number of Alzheimer’s and dementia related calls is “going to be a necessity,” Tyler said.

For officers out on patrol, providing them with adequate training so they can identify people with specific conditions and deal with them as their individual condition best dictates also is important, he said.

Law enforcement officers in general used to approach a much wider range of people using techniques for excited delirium, Tyler said.

Excited delirium is described as a condition often related to long-term drug use or mental illness, causing agitation, aggression, acute distress and sudden death.

Specialized training allows officers to better distinguish Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, or those with autism and Down syndrome, from those on drugs or suffering mental illness.

Alzheimer’s patients can become delusional and hallucinate, become agitated and turn highly aggressive during certain phases of their illnesses, for example, while those with autism and Down syndrome sometimes can become agitated and aggressive.

Tyler added that Arizona’s Silver Alert system, originally limited to use for when seniors with Alzheimer’s and other dementia were missing, was widened in August to allow for its use when people with developmental disabilities are missing.

Both programs ask that parents or guardians fill out a registration form and provide a good photo of the person who is being put on the registry.

Yearly renewal for Take Me Home allows for photographs to be updated annually.

Schuster also stressed that having good quality photographs of loved ones can be important if that person goes missing.

“And those photos should be updated every year,” he said.

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