Area police departments are launching a new program designed to help emergency crews quickly find people who wander from their homes as a result of having Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, autism or other conditions.

Waterville, Winslow, Oakland and Clinton police plan to use The Wanderers Database, which provides police with a name, age, address, physical description, photo and other information about a “wanderer” that would help them in their search.

Anyone interested in filling out a form can obtain one at the police department of the town in which the person at danger of wandering resides. Once filled out, a photo of the person is attached and it is returned to the police station.

Waterville police Sgt. Jennifer Weaver, who supervises the department’s communications center, attended a regional meeting recently in Waldo County where communications supervisors met with Linda Lee, a co-founder of the wanderers program who also has a son with autism. When Lee moved to Maine, she approached the Belfast Police Department to submit information about her son and learned the department did not have a “wanderers program,” so she worked with the chief there to develop one, Weaver said.

“She actually created the brochure and she helped us make it ours,” Weaver said Thursday.

The program is now being used by Waldo and Knox county sheriff’s departments, as well as by police departments in those counties, according to Weaver.

Waterville dispatches not only for the city, but also for the towns of Oakland, Clinton and Winslow, so having information in the database would allow police to access and share information quickly if someone wanders.

Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said time is critical when someone is reported missing.

Earlier this year an elderly man wandered away from JFK Plaza off Kennedy Memorial Drive after his brother went into a store for a short time, Massey said. The two had come to Waterville from Sidney in a pickup truck. Ultimately, the man was found lying under a tree in a wooded area behind the mall, according to Massey.

“He was reported missing at 1 p.m., and we didn’t find him until five or six,” Massey said.

A week prior, the man wandered from home and was found near Interstate 95, he said.

Typically in situations like that, police ask a family member or caretaker for a photograph of the person and he or she may have to drive home to get one, bring it back and give it to police. It also takes time to get descriptive, medical and other information that may help emergency workers.

With the new program, that information will already be in a database so police can distribute it quickly over the phone, through email to computers in cruisers and to cellphones, according to Massey.

Weaver noted that the information remains confidential unless a family member gives police permission to give it to media outlets.

As part of the program, the database also would include information about any known “triggers” that a person may have who has wandered off — certain words to avoid using, for instance, that are known to agitate the person. At the same time, information about something that may help calm the person also is included in the database, Weaver said.

“Every year, they (families) will be contacted by a dispatcher to get an updated photograph, updated medical, contact information — to update their profile,” she said.

FIRST RESPONDER TRAINING

Bill Kirkpatrick, program director for Alzheimer’s Association, Maine Chapter, said he is aware of similar wanderers database programs around the state, including one the South Portland Police Department uses.

“I think the concept is a very good one,” Kirkpatrick said. “I think it’s a benefit to have that knowledge.”

A licensed social worker, Kirkpatrick said his organization trains first responders around the state and conducts workshops focusing on safety for people with Alzheimer’s. His organization also offers free support to families and caregivers.

Two-thirds of people with Alzheimer’s will wander, according to Kirkpatrick.

“It’s a very, very high risk,” he said.

He said he plans to reach out to Weaver at Waterville Police Department to offer training for emergency workers.

It is not clear why those with Alzheimer’s wander, but they tend to wander in a straight line and seem to be searching for something, he said. Sometimes they may wander into a street, not recognizing there is danger.

“They’re not likely to call out for help or ask for help because they may not recognize they are lost or need help,” he said.

Oftentimes, they are found because something has stopped them. They become entangled in bushes or fall into a ditch, for example.

“They’re not likely able to find the way home because they are disoriented,” Kirkpatrick said.

The training his organization offers helps provide first responders with an understanding of what is happening with cognitive changes associated with someone who has dementia, he said.

The Alzheimer’s Association, Maine Chapter, always is looking for venues to offer free informational and training workshops. Those wanting information about that and other support services may call 800-272-3900 or go to Alz.org/maine.

Massey said incidents of wandering occur frequently and often include the same person. A tragic situation occurred a few years ago when a woman wandered from an assisted living facility and jumped off a bridge to her death, he said.

He and Weaver noted that Waterville police continue to offer its Are You OK? program for people who may be elderly, alone or homebound. Those who participate are called by the police department’s automated phone system at certain times every day and if no one answers, it calls again. If no one answers after a certain number of calls, police go to their home to check on them.

One does not need to answer the phone and speak — he may merely pick up the phone and hang it up. Also, if a person in the program plans to be away from the house for a certain time and will not answer the phone, he or she should let police know ahead of time.

Both that program and the new wanderers program are free.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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