State program trains police, public on dementia



State program trains police, public on dementia

By Savannah Eadens

Six in 10 people with dementia will wander away from home at some point in their disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. 

Because of this statistic, a new statewide public awareness campaign called the Silver Search program launched Nov. 1. The program will be used to train law enforcement agencies across Illinois to help when someone with dementia goes missing, according to a Nov. 1 Illinois State Police press release. 

“Through that training, [law enforcement] will know what to do and that time is of the essence,” said Craig Burge, the Silver Search coordinator for the Illinois State Police. “[Law enforcement will also learn] how they can retrieve information from the public to use that in their investigation of this missing person.” 

The program has been in development since February 2015 when its legislation, Senate Bill 1836, was introduced, said Jennifer Belkov, vice president of Public Policy for the Illinois Chapter of Alzheimer’s Association. 

Belkov, who helped write the legislation that passed in August 2015, said there was insufficient use of technology used for locating missing people with dementia, and law enforcement was not adequately trained on how to identify, understand and communicate with dementia patients. 

In addition to the training, information about Silver Search is communicated with billboards, posters and 9,000 lottery terminals statewide. The program also partners with the Illinois Broadcaster’s Association and the Illinois Department of Transportation to send out messages when someone with dementia has gone missing to  inform the public so they can contribute to the search, Burge said.

“With the ability to get information out to the public, we feel like they can be our eyes and ears to help find these missing persons,” Burge said. 

It is important for the public to know how to recognize that someone wandering as a symptom of dementia is not part of a typical aging process, said Karen Lowe Graham, community relations manager for Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

“If you see someone who is 85 years old wandering around in 20 degree weather, that is not normal,” Lowe Graham said. 

It can be especially difficult for law enforcement to help someone with dementia because they become confused, agitated or scared due to the cognitive impairment, Belkov said. 

Law enforcement need to differentiate dementia from mental illness or intoxication, she added, because there are 220,000 people in Illinois living  with dementia. 

Carmen Burns is a caregiver for her mother who was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia in 2014. She runs a Facebook page with 750 followers called “Dementia Through My Daughter’s Eyes,” which chronicles her journey with her mother who lives in in a suburb of Toronto. 

Since her diagnosis, Burns’ mother’s judgment and communication have been impaired, and though she has never wandered away from home, Burns said it could happen. She said caregivers need to be proactive in preventing their loved ones from wandering. 

“When my mother was moved out of her home, we immediately went to the local police station and provided them with her information so they have that on file,” Burns said. “I think it is important that they wear medical alert bracelets, and police officers should look for that.” 

In order to recognize someone with dementia, law enforcement should look for a vacant look in their eyes, confusion or fidgeting, Burns said. 

It is also important police know how to communicate with dementia patients because it is difficult to persuade someone with dementia, she added.

“Some of our most vulnerable population are our elderly, and our biggest risk could possibly be those with dementia, so we want to make sure that we have the tools necessary to return someone’s grandmother, mother or great-grandparent home,” Burge said.