When a deer hunter found the remains of 69-year-old Charles Springer in the Belmont woods last weekend, the former long-distance trucker who suffered from dementia had been missing for two and a half years.
Lt. Kevin Adam, search and rescue coordinator for the Maine Warden Service, said Tuesday that there will be more such searches for missing people like Springer as the state’s population — already the oldest in the nation — continues to age.
“It’s going to be very problematic in the years to come,” he said.
According to warden service statistics, of the 480 searches in 2008, 31 were listed under the category of mental health and most likely were all for with dementia. In 2009, that category accounted for 34 out of 424 searches. So far this year, with a new dementia and Alzheimer’s category, there have been 19 such searches out of 300.
“They pose major challenges,” Adam said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it.”
People suffering from dementia may have access to transportation, and if that’s the case, searchers generally can’t begin to look for them until the vehicle has been located, he said. Others may be in good physical condition and able to walk five or 10 miles a day, making it even more difficult to find them.
Maine has a new Silver Alert law, modeled after the Amber Alert for missing children, to speed up the start of searches for missing senior citizens and to establish a uniform statewide policy for informing media outlets.
The catalyst for the law was dementia sufferer William Young, whose body was found in the woods of Kokadjo in April 2009. He had traveled more than 150 miles north of his Auburn home.
Adam said that nothing is certain when his agency is looking for people with impaired mental states.
“It’s very difficult to predict where they’re going to be,” he said. “I’ve worked on several cases over the years where they basically drive till they get stuck. When they’re on foot, it’s pretty random walking.”
Searchers will try to find out where the lost person grew up.
“That memory is planted deep inside their brain,” Adam said. “Some people are back in that time.”
He said that it can be hard for the families of those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s to be able to help their loved ones remain safe.
“It’s a huge issue for the families. Mainers are independent people. We rely on our vehicles to transport ourselves around the state to get things done,” he said. “There comes a point when somebody close to you has to make a decision and not let you drive anymore. People don’t like to do that.”
Adam urges family members to pay attention to one particular early warning sign.
“If you have one incident where someone hasn’t showed up where they’re supposed to be, that’s your clue right there that you have to do something,” he said.
For information about Alzheimer’s disease, call 800-272-3900 or visit www.alz.org/index.asp.