GROTON – To help residents with family members suffering from cognitive impairment, three local departments have collaborated to create an emergency assistance system.
The Council on Aging, Police Department and Fire Departmen have launched Project Safe and Sound.
The collaboration is meant to establish a secure database of vital information for the two emergency departments to help protect residents at risk for wandering. According to town officials, more than 60% of people with Alzheimer’s or a related disorder will wander and about six in ten of those with dementia will wander at least once. If those who wander are not found within 24 hours, up to half of wandering seniors with dementia suffer serious injury or death.
Though a national issue, wandering does not appear to be a growing problem in town. Police Detective Pat Timmons, who is the department’s liaison to the Council on Aging, said the collaborative effort is one of preparation in case of future incidents of wandering.
“Wandering is not a problem here more than it is in any other town,” Timmons said. “This is not a reactive approach, we’re just trying to get ahead of the issue in case someone goes wandering or missing.”
Kathy Shelp, director of the Council on Aging, said talks for the project started in January 2020 and were inspired by the Dementia Friendly Massachusetts movement started by the state Council on Aging. The project would’ve launched sooner, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“There were programs similar to this that we found very patronizing,” Shelp said. “We wanted to change the name and stress that it’s open to anyone of all ages with cognitive issues. It’s a proactive measure.”
The collaborative created the Safe and Sound registry, a secure filed shared amongst police and fire officials containing confidential information on at-risk residents. The collaborative needs the date of birth, medical condition, a recent photo, emergency contact information, favorite places to go and other information that could help determine the location of a wandered resident.
“The whole purpose is if it’s 3 a.m and we get a report of wandering, we have something simple to get into if the person volunteered the necessary information,” Timmons said.
Shelp noted that the COA has a similar shared file called Emergency Preparedness containing information on residents who live alone and need assistance in emergency instances, including a natural disaster. It also applies to residents struggling through, for instance, a global pandemic keeping disabled seniors stuck at home and unable to travel to state sites to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
“I think the inequities in the vaccine rollout are astounding,” Shelp said. “The COAs are frustrated because they don’t have any measures to transport people to vaccine sites efficiently.”
Those that want to register for the project can download a form on the town website and return completed forms to the Groton Center on 163 West Main Street.