The Growing Burden of Alzheimer’s Disease

The world’s population is aging at unprecedented rate. Starting last year 100,000 baby boomers each day are reaching age 65. Today over 5 million people are living with the Alzheimer’s disease.


Nearly 15 million dementia caregivers provide an estimated 17 billion hours of unpaid care to loved ones (valued at $202 billion/year).   Research has shown that caregivers suffer both physically and emotionally related to the high level of anxiety of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.       

Alzheimer’s and First Responders

First responders may observe the following common symptoms in people with Alzheimer’s disease:

•             Using nonsensical words while speaking

•             Disoriented to space time and place

•             Poor judgment (wearing inappropriate clothing)

•             Wandering or becoming lost; not knowing where one lives.

•             Rapid mood swings, anxiety, suspiciousness, or agitation.

•             Blank facial expression.

•             Walking characterized by a slow shuffling gait.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Wandering

Over 60% of people with dementia will wander at some point, many do so repeatedly.  In the United States over 125,000 Alzheimer's disease subjects become critical wanderers annually. It estimated by 2040, this number will increase to over half a million wanderers per year. The wanderer usually has a purpose or goal in mind; searching for something, escaping from something, or reliving the past.

The consequences of wandering are staggering, including death and severe medical compromise.  The leading causes of death for wanderers are hypothermia, dehydration and drowning. Finding the wanderer as soon as possible is paramount. Survivability rates are also related to weather conditions. 94% of Alzheimer's subjects will be found within 1.5 miles.  75% of all wanderers have been found on or within 33 yards of a road or a trail. Subjects with Alzheimer's are drawn towards light. Studies indicate that 75% of wanderers head south. The best tactic for starting a search is to head SE or SW (toward the light), depending on the time of day the victim was last seen.  Learning from family members the history of other wandering attempts may also assist rescuers. 

After the initial crisis has been resolved officers need to encourage the family to contact the Safe Return program’s nonemergency number at 1–888–572–8566 to register the individual as a wanderer.

Responding to Individuals Who Have Alzheimer’s Disease

If you suspect an individual has Alzheimer’s disease, expect conversations to be difficult.  Move the individual away from crowds or other noises; turn off your light and turn your radio down.  To avoid suspiciousness approach the individual from the front, establish, and maintain eye contact.  Introduce yourself as a law enforcement officer and explain that you have come to help. You may have to repeat this information several times.   To prevent agitation, talk in a reassuring manner, use simple sentences and familiar words.  Request to see identification, also notice if he/she has a Safe Return bracelet, necklace, lapel pin, key chain, or label inside their clothing collar. Check for evidence of physical impairment especially dehydration or hypothermia.  Call paramedics if you have any concerns.  Determine if they are a victim of any crime, including abuse or neglect.  Never challenge victims’ logic or reasoning.  Make any instructions simple; use nonverbal communication skills if the individual remains confused.  Yes and no questions are best.  Do not leave the individual alone, he/she may wander. 

Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

There are many different causes of memory loss.  If you, a parent, or grandparent is experiencing symptoms of dementia, talk to your doctor so the cause can be determined. The following is a list of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease by the Alzheimer's Foundation of America:

•             Relying on memory helpers

•             Trouble finding words

•             Struggling to complete familiar actions

•             Confusion about time, place or people

•             Misplacing familiar objects

•             Onset of new depression or irritability

•             Making bad decisions

•             Personality changes

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