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Lost seniors a growing problem in Vancouver

Dunbar resident has helped three seniors in her neighbourhood

The time was nearing midnight as he paced up and down the quiet DunbarSouthlands block. He was 78 years old, but he couldnt remember that. He had no Care Card, no drivers licence, no means of identification. He had no cellphone on him and even if he did he could not remember his daughters phone number. The Chinese-speaking seniors lapse of memory had taken what English he had known, so he walked from corner to corner on Mackenzie Street, peering at the street signs, hoping that they would tell him where to go, hoping that they would tell him anything.

Thats how Linda Dudley found him April 24. Dudley, a 64 year old resident of the neighbourhood, was on her way home from seeing a movie when she spotted him. They made eye contact for a second before he looked away, but the sense of helpless confusion lingered. Dudley pulled her grey Honda Civic to the curb and stepped out to ask if he needed help. His answer was barely coherent, and as he had no identification, Dudley decided to call the Vancouver Police Department. Three VPD cruisers soon pulled up next to Dudleys Honda Civic and the mans daughter rushed from the cruiser and into Dudleys arms. She told Dudley that her father had been missing since 7 p.m. and was grateful that somebody had stopped to help him.

Its a good day, Dudley whispered in her ear.

Lost seniors are a common problem, Dudley feels, but they often go unnoticed.

Its not always obvious, Dudley said. The man was well-dressed and was walking with purpose. He had been walking all night and had probably passed a lot of Chinese-speakers but didnt stop to ask any of them for help the average person might not notice.

Dudley had previously helped two lost seniors. She found one woman walking down a busy road, address and a list of numbers in hand. When she looked at the address, she noticed that the woman had walked right past her own home. Dudley walked her home and immediately contacted the womans nephew before leaving. Dudley said that when approaching a senior that you believe is lost, its best to be upfront and ask if they know where they are. Its important to just check with them. Its better to ask in error than to wonder.

Wandering is a common symptom of Alzheimers and dementia. It is often the result of a sufferer searching for something or someone familiar, trying to find food, water or a washroom, or just being under too much stress. The Alzheimers Society of Canada publishes a list of early warning signs of the disease, including: problems with articulation, mood swings, misplacing items, and disorientation of time and place.

The Alzheimers Society offers identification bracelets for seniors who are prone to wandering. It also offers the option of a GPS-based locating device, but warns that a loss of personal freedom and privacy may cause certain people more stress and therefore increase wandering.

Dudley says that she was impressed by the VPDs quick reaction to her call. They had been out and actively searching for the man, Dudley said. They seemed very concerned.

One VPD cruiser showed up almost immediately, but the officer hadnt seen a photo of the man and couldnt identify him.

The officer also couldnt speak Chinese, so he put the man on the phone with VPD personnel that knew both Mandarin and Cantonese in order to confirm his identity. Two more cruisers showed up soon after with a photo of the man and the description that his daughter had given them.