A Chickasha woman said she was amazed at how quickly the word got out after her mother disappeared and a Silver Alert was issued.
BY MATT PATTERSON Oklahoman 0
Published: August 16, 2010
Radeena Crowder knew she lived in a place where folks were willing to help their neighbors. But when it came to finding her missing mother, people she didn't even know sprang into action.
When her mother, Vuleena Lofland, 82, went missing this month, Chickasha authorities issued a Silver Alert. Lofland has Alzheimer's disease. Much like Amber Alerts for missing children, Silver Alerts allow local law enforcement agencies to coordinate with other agencies and news media across the state to get photos and descriptions of missing senior citizens out to the public.
Lofland wandered away from her home, thinking a relative lived across the street. She found a way into the home of a truck driver where she remained until the driver's mother went to check on his house after she heard about the Silver Alert.
Lofland had no idea an armada of people were looking for her, including members of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and Chickasha residents who dropped what they were doing to search.
"There were a lot of ordinary citizens who got in their cars, got on their four-wheelers and went looking for her,” Crowder said. "Chickasha stepped up in a big way. By the afternoon every store in town had a flier in the front window.”
Silver Alerts increase
Georgia Lehar, 84, also was found dead in July after she was reported missing and a Silver Alert was issued.
"They feel a need to move,” Odenheimer said. "If they are ambulatory and they are disoriented, they are at risk for wandering off. Unfortunately, even the first time that happens it can be very serious.”
Odenheimer said many assisted living facilities are installing wandering paths so residents can walk in a safe environment. Not every Alzheimer's or dementia patient is at risk for wandering off, but certain situations make it more likely to happen.
"If they don't realize they are at home, or there has been a history of them becoming lost that can be a sign, because often they will want to get to that place where they think they need to be,” Odenheimer said. Even the simplest situations can become dangerous. Odenheimer had a patient who was an avid runner. The man would run down a long stretch of road, turn around and go back the way he had come. But one day the man turned around 360 degrees and kept going in the same direction.
"That was a situation where it seemed like a pretty safe route because there were no turns, but even that was something that got him into trouble,” she said.
Memory loss alone isn't always cause to restrict the movements of otherwise healthy people. The basic rule of thumb is to remain vigilant.
"There are so many layers to the question of when a person is in danger,” Oklahoma Alzheimer's Association President Mark Fried said. "If a relative is talking to someone and their cognitive function is obviously impaired, that is one example. If they leave the stove on after they made something to eat, or if they are putting unusual items in the refrigerator, those are things that definitely should raise the level of concern.”
Ultimately the answer may be to place the loved one in an assisted living facility. That's what Crowder did with her mother after she wandered off. The new living arrangement brought peace of mind.
"She's in a secure place where people can watch over her,” Crowder said. "That's something that probably should have been done a long time ago. She wanted to do that, but there were circumstances that were preventing it.”
Technology plays a role
Within hours of Lofland's disappearance, the family was able to get photos to the news media. Friends posted information on social media outlets such as Facebook.
"Within an hour or two it went out to hundreds, maybe thousands of people on Facebook,” Crowder said. "The response was phenomenal. Fifteen years ago we would have had to drive the photos to those TV stations to get the word out.”
Chickasha also has a system that places automatic calls to every home phone in the area to make residents aware of Silver Alerts.
The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety plans to launch a website that will post photos and relevant information on Silver Alerts, Thaxton said. The website is expected to be operational by the end of October.
Modern technology can help relatives track their loved ones who have memory loss. One recommended by the Alzheimer's Association is Comfort Zone, which utilizes GPS tracking.
"Technology definitely plays a role in helping people find their loved ones in those situations,” Fried said.
"Programs like Comfort Zone are fairly new, but they are becoming more popular because in most cases they're pretty easy to use and are affordable.”