Kupuna Transitions: Finding your loved one

During this past month, hundreds of caring members of the Big Island community have searched for a generous, kindhearted woman who is lost to those who care for her due to her confused Alzheimer’s state. She served our island community as a public health nurse, and in turn her family is now being supported in hopes of finding her in recoverable health.

One of my first thoughts, after that heart-wrenching moment of sadness for the situation, was about the value of a GPS watch. They make them for individuals who are at risk of wandering, in hopes of being able to locate them if this situation should happen. If someone is willing to wear that type of watch or pendant, it is a great way to help prevent these devastating situations from happening. Unfortunately, on the Facebook page supporting the search effort, her son wrote that she would take her tracking devices off.

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With this dire situation at hand, I decided to look into alternative ways to help family members keep track of their disoriented loved one. There obviously is not one simple solution to keep someone with severe memory loss away from the risks of danger, especially when no two cases are exactly the same. I call Alzheimer’s the snowflake disease because it affects each person differently, beyond their personality or upbringing. For example, where one person becomes angry when they were always pleasant, another person can start off and stay pleasant. That is why there isn’t one fix to keeping someone with Alzheimer’s confidently safe.

Most importantly, a family member must recognize and accept that their loved one is at risk of wandering away and getting lost. After that, it is absolutely worth the investment of time and money to find a way to get that individual tracked. Technology is rapidly expanding with improved tiny devices that can track the whereabouts of people or things, like lost keys. Aside from numerous environmental tricks such as an elevated lock on a door or black circle that appears to be a hole keeping someone from stepping over a threshold, I think their best bet is trying out a few different devices that can be attached to, or inserted inside of, whatever the individual is always utilizing.

We are creatures of habit and even if habits may change with cognitive shifts, there is usually something that is routine with the person. I think shoes are the best bet, as many older individuals wear the same shoes nearly every day and do not leave home without them. There are a variety of tools like smart insoles and tiny devices that can attach to shoelaces or sandal straps. You could even cut a slit in the sole of their favorite pair of shoes and slip a GPS device in there if they resist the device. Hide their other shoes, claiming they’re lost, so the tracked shoes are sure to be worn. It’s also important to be sure the devices battery is charged, as the last thing anyone needs in this situation is a false sense of security.

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It is said that hindsight is 20/20, yet with this type of situation even hindsight can’t say for sure what would have kept our local family from experiencing this traumatic event. Shoes can be slipped off as easily as that tracking watch they tried to give her. Cell reception can get spotty in many parts of our island, so GPS is not a perfect solution for any family in this situation.

I hope that my suggestions at least aid family caregivers when coming up with a family plan to keep their loved one safe. Until this search becomes a rescue, I hold in the highest regard those community members aiding in this cause. It could easily be any of us who care for someone with Alzheimer’s, so it is beautiful to see such a strong, caring community of local citizens. I honor you all.