Panama City Beach Seniors Find Support in Community

Bay County Alzheimer’s Alliance Supports Community-Based Programs for Dementia Sufferers

Most families caring for a loved one with memory loss understand the dangers of their loved one becoming lost or wandering. Dementia destroys brain cells responsible for thinking, memory and behavior, which can cause people to become disoriented in familiar situations and environments. Wandering and disorientation are common among those with dementia and this behavior can appear at any stage of the disease, posing a risk for people who have never gotten lost in the past.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over 60% of adults suffering from some form of dementia will wander. If not found within 24 hours, half of those individuals are at risk for serious injury or even death.

Amy Goodwin, community relations manager at Provision Living at Panama City Beach knows the heartbreak a family can go through when a loved one wanders or becomes lost. “For many adult children caring for their parents, wandering and disorientation are two of the most obvious signs that their parent is suffering from dementia,” says Goodwin. “I work with families every day who are worried that their parent is no longer safe to drive a car or to continue living alone in their home.”

Goodwin’s appreciation for seniors led her to begin volunteering with the Bay County Alzheimer’s Alliance (BCAA) several years ago and she strives to help families in the Bay County area who are primary caregivers for individuals with memory loss.

The BCAA has partnered with the Bay County Sheriff’s Department to fund Project Lifesaver and Project Gatekeeper, both of which serve area residents who are at-risk for wandering. Project Lifesaver utilizes a small personal transmitter, worn around the wrist or ankle, to track participants who are missing. Trained emergency teams respond to the area indicated by the tracking software and most individuals are found within a few miles of their home, reducing search operations from hour and days to just minutes.

Project Gatekeeper, a free program through the sheriff’s office, allows citizens to register a friend or family member who is at risk for becoming lost. Sheriff’s office employees contact registrants each day by phone, checking in on them at various times throughout the day. If they do not receive an answer, deputies are dispatched to the location to assess the situation.

Goodwin believes these programs are a huge help to families who are still caring for loved ones at home. “There are lots of seniors who just need a little extra help with chores and transportation and they are still successful living alone. Unfortunately, once symptoms like wandering occur, they are likely to continue, making living alone almost impossible. These programs help give families peace of mind until they can make decisions about long-term care. Often it’s just a matter of overall safety – is mom better off at home or would the dedicated support of a memory care community be more appropriate for her wellbeing?

“Understanding the disease process and how dementia affects the mind is very helpful for families struggling with the feelings of guilt and sadness. When they better understand the reasons why their loved one is wandering, or behaving in a way that’s out of character, they can make more objective decisions about the needs of their parent,” admits Goodwin.

The Mayo Clinic offers these tips for understanding the triggers of wandering:

  • Stress or Fear: Your loved one might wander as a reaction to an unfamiliar or over-stimulating environment, a loud noise or a situation that he or she does not understand.
  • Searching: He or she might get lost while searching for someone or something.
  • Boredom: He or she might be looking for something to do.
  • Basic Needs: He or she might be looking for a bathroom or food, or want to go outdoors.
  • Following Past Routines: He or she might try to go to work, do chores or buy groceries.

“Many people don’t realize that today’s assisted living and memory care communities actually help elders live more productive, fulfilling lives. At Provision Living, the Alzheimer’s Association trains our staff and we can help not only the adult parent suffering with memory loss, but the family as well,” says Goodwin.

“Our goal is to serve and create thriving seniors and thriving families through purposeful engagement, individual care plans and honoring the preferences of our residents and their families. We consider family members to be an integral part of our caregiving team and we support them just as much as we support the resident.”

You can learn more about Project Gatekeeper and Project Lifesaver by visiting the Bay County Alzheimer’s Alliance website: http://www.baycountyalzheimersalliance.org/.

If you are in considering advanced planning for memory care options, or if a family member is already in need of care, Provision Living at Panama City Beach welcomes the opportunity to help your family understand your care options. Please call (850) 236-0510 for more information or to schedule a visit.


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