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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Search for Missing Missouri Woman with Alzheimer’s

Hellen Cook, Vulnerable Adult Missing
It’s every Alzheimer’s caregiver’s nightmare—a loved one has gone missing and can’t be found. On July 13, Hellen Cook tended to yard work while her husband mowed at their home in Warsaw, Missouri. Her husband left for fifteen or twenty minutes to return his mower to the barn, and when he returned, Hellen no longer sat on the porch swing. She had vanished.

Yes, I know that heart-stopping moment firsthand. While we were still seeking a diagnosis for Jim, he accompanied me, and several members of our Board of Directors on a business trip to Las Vegas. Everything was going fine until we were at the airport headed home. While I went to get our boarding passes, Jim had to go to the restroom. It was within sight of where I was standing. I finished and then became concerned about why he hadn’t returned.

One of the directors went into the restroom to check on him, and discovered that he wasn’t there. “We’ll find him,” Francis said, probably with much more confidence than he felt. The directors fanned out and within ten minutes had found Jim.

“He was pretty easy to spot,” Don Joe said with a laugh. And he was, wearing a bright red Kansas City T-shirt and a cowboy hat.

That was only the first of many searches. I was by myself when I lost him at the mall. Security helped me find him. Once again, he had gone to the bathroom but went the wrong direction when he came out. I lost him at Silver Dollar City—twice—and one of those times he had our grandson with him. I learned the hard way that the bathroom had two exits.

All it took was for me to be distracted for a few minutes and he would be gone. I was folding clothes one time and my sister-in-law called to say Jim was walking down the road in front of their house. One time a neighbor found him several miles from home and close to the highway.

Of all the times he went missing, the scariest one was the night I woke up to discover he wasn't in bed. After I searched the house and realized he was gone, I was frantic. Thankfully, he always stayed on the road and walked the same direction, so I did know where to start looking. I got in the car and found him within a few miles of home. He was fully dressed, complete with dark sunglasses, cowboy hat, and using his cane.

Even the best caregivers can lose track of someone with Alzheimer’s. Sixty percent of people with Alzheimer’s wander. The Alzheimer’s Association has two programs to help with the search efforts. One is MedicAlert + Safe Return. Jim was registered with Safe Return. Although it doesn’t keep them from wandering it does help activate the search immediately. The ID jewelry will alert others that the person is memory impaired and all they have to do is call the toll free number.

A new program, Comfort Zone, uses technology to remotely monitor a person with Alzheimer’s. If they leave the pre-set safety zone, family members can be alerted via email, text message, mobile phone, or the internet. I’m excited about this new program and could see how it would be more reliable than counting on neighbors to notice that a person with dementia seems to be lost.

If your loved one is lost, don’t search for more than fifteen minutes without calling for help. When you dial 911, tell them a vulnerable adult is missing. Beginning a timely search is crucial to finding your loved one. The Alzheimer’s Association shares the statistic that ninety-four percent of people who wander are found within a mile and a half of where they disappeared. The more people who search immediately, the better chance you have of finding your loved one.

Hundreds have joined the search for Hellen Cook, who went missing two weeks ago. Dogs were used early on but they lost her scent at the highway. That led everyone to believe that she had been picked up by someone in a car. Family, friends, and other volunteers, including the Alzheimer’s Association local chapter, conducted a ground search. In a wooded area near a pond they found boots, a scarf, and a hat believed to belong to Hellen. 

The search continues for Hellen and her loved ones are more fearful each day. Please be on the lookout for Hellen, and remember her and her family in your prayers.

Copyright (c) July 2013 by L.S. Fisher

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