Nancy Paulikas vanished 18 months ago. She was 57 years old at the time and suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease. Soon after her disappearance, fliers popped up all over Manhattan Beach, urging anyone who had information to step forward.
But today, Paulikas is still missing, though new theories on her possible whereabouts have emerged. Over the weekend, more stories like this one have surfaced, where elderly family members with dementia have gotten separated from their families. Maybe you have an elderly parent and are reading this, wondering how to prevent something similar from happening to a loved one.
Donna Benton is a Research Associate Professor of Gerontology at the University of Southern California, who recommends the acronym SAFETY as a guide.
SAFETY stands for:
- Affect-alone agitated afraid
- Friends family planning
- Environment alternative
- Y because we want to Bring our loved ones Home SAFE (get information from the county)
Benton has the following tips:
1. Proof the home
The first thing you want to do is make sure your family members are secure, which means you may need to 'proof' your home.
"That means you've taken precautions around the home so that the gas can't be turned on accidentally by maybe having a fake switch on there," Benton said. "You can use childproof things for the locks."
Routine keeps people from getting anxious, feeling alone, agitated or afraid, which, of course, you want to avoid with someone who has dementia. Benton suggests setting up a calling schedule and becoming acquainted with your family member's regimen.
Also, becoming acquainted with their friends and neighbors can be useful.
These are the eyes and ears of a neighborhood... they're going to know the routine also and be able to tell you, 'Oh wait, she usually always puts her shades up.' We tend not to know our parent's friends, but you need to have all that contact information readily available.
It's important not to infantilize your parents through this process. The goal is to have a plan in place in case something happens.
3. Technology is on your side
Nowadays there are many products available to make tracking a loved one easier.
We have so many things like bracelets, things that are geotagged so that you can find somebody... You can put some of these tags in sneakers, and then that way you would be able to locate the person if they happen to go off.
4. Up-to-date pictures
You NEED to have updated pictures at all times, in the event that your loved one is lost.
Fortunately, with camera phones, take pictures. You want those memories, but you want a recent memory of that person so that you can share it with the fire department or the police or the hospital.
5. Old-fashioned services can help, too
Don't be afraid to rely on old standbys like your local fire station, police station or hospital. Let them know there's a person in the area who is suffering from dementia. Bring them up-to-date photos when you can. That way, Benton said, if your family member happens to come into one of those facilities while they're agitated, they'll be aware of their condition.