Dementia education starts with safety

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We have started our journey together. I was filled with a mixture of emotions as I heard from many of you; thankful for the opportunity to provide awareness of the Alzheimer's Association-Inland Northwest Chapter, yet overwhelmed and saddened by the need and how many of you have been journeying alone. You have truly experienced "Where do I start?"

Safety is an ever present concern in our lives. We tend to worry when our child or grandchild heads to school, rides a bike for the first time without training wheels, or gets behind the wheel for the first solo drive to a friend's house. These are normal and healthy feelings.

When a loved one is diagnosed with one of the 70 forms of dementia (five are most common) there is a shock wave that floods our being. Sometimes that wave is relief, because we finally understand the changes we have seen, or it can been an overwhelming concern of how this will change our life and the life of our loved one.

Education provides insight and awareness.

Whether you are an adult child or the spouse of the individual who has received the diagnosis, concerns over safety kick in. It is only natural to want life to continue as everyone has known it for as long as possible. The Alzheimer's Association has educational programs on "Safety in the Home," the MedicAlert + Safe Return Program and now Comfort Zone.

Comfort Zone is a Web-based service that works with different location devices to monitor the whereabouts of an individual. It uses the Global Positioning System and cell phone technology to provide the exact location of the person with dementia.

The Alzheimer's Association Comfort Zone, powered by Omnilink, is the first location management system designed specifically with Alzheimer's in mind. This service provides family members with the knowledge of their loved one's location, giving some peace of mind while allowing freedom, independence and emotional security of familiar routines and surroundings to the individual with Alzheimer's.

The Alzheimer's Association is committed to helping educate families about how to keep people with Alzheimer's safe, active and independent for as long as possible.

Comfort Zone is a step forward in Alzheimer's safety. On a personal note, Comfort Zone would have allowed my husband to have remained at home longer, meet with friends for coffee and enjoy walking to the various Real Estate offices. Had he traveled beyond the zone I had pre-set, I would have been alerted.

Comfort Zone can be individualized to meet each family's particular needs. There are tracking devices for the various stages; whether car-mounted, a pocket device or wrist-worn, Comfort Zone is a secure Web application with numerous benefits.

The zones and alerts can be adjusted as the disease progresses. The 24/7 Monitoring Center provides technical assistance and location management for those who cannot access the Internet.

Additional benefits include enrollment in the MedicAlert + Safe Return Program. This program is a bracelet identification program that includes Emergency Health Record and Comprehensive Alzheimer's Services. These services provide peace of mind, the opportunity for flexibility and choice and long-distance comfort. Family members are able to check in on a person with Alzheimer's from across town, or across the country. What a benefit for those who can't be right there.

Safety with wandering is a primary concern with Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's destroys an individual's brain cells. These cells are responsible for memory, thinking and behaviors. Becoming disoriented and lost, even in their own neighborhood or in places that have been familiar, is quite common.

Due to confusion and often panic they are left vulnerable to weather, traffic dangers and even those who "think the individual is OK" and prey on them.

Statistics show that six out of 10 people with Alzheimer's will wander and become lost at some time during the course of their disease. If not found within 24 hours, up to half will suffer serious injury or death.

Comfort Zone provides a proactive opportunity to locate the person with within two to 30 minutes, based on the family's selected plan.

For additional information on Comfort Zone, go to www.alz.org/inlandnorthwest or call 1-877-ALZ-4850

A Reason to Hope appears the last Wednesday of each month. Debbi Pierce, Southeastern Washington Association-Inland Northwest Chapter, can be reached at debbi.pierce@alz.org or 509-713-3390.

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