Tuesday, July 30, 2002

6-day ordeal highlights
growing plight

An Alzheimer’s patient is found safe,
but the odds were against him

By Mary Vorsino

Benjamin Ah Yen lost six days of his life.

On July 21, the 63-year-old Alzheimer's patient walked out the door of his Makiki home.

He was found Saturday morning in Ala Moana Beach Park with no recollection of how he had survived his near weeklong ordeal.

"I don't know how I was lost," he said yesterday, hours before being released from Straub Hospital, where he was under observation. "I was just separated from everything."

His son, Sean Ah Yen, 32, never suspected that his father's roaming could be potentially fatal.

"He goes to places near where he lives. We always know where to find him. (This time,) he didn't show up to any of the places."

For six agonizing days last week, Sean searched with the help of the Honolulu Police Department, family and friends.

He followed leads that his father had been spotted in downtown Honolulu and repeatedly checked the places his father was known to frequent.

He posted fliers with his father's picture, hoping that someone would recognize the frail man who also suffered from diabetes, while fearing the worst.

"You worry the whole time. Everything's just running through your mind."

And the odds against Ah Yen were heavy.

According to a recently released University of Florida study, 46 percent of the Alzheimer's patients who wander will die if not found within 24 hours.

More than 20,000 people suffer from Alzheimer's disease in Hawaii, making the need for safe return registration or 24-hour monitoring programs here paramount, said Janet Bender, executive director of the Alzheimer's Association of Hawaii.

"It only takes a few minutes for them to scoot away."

Sean Ah Yen said he is now considering placing his father, who he says "likes to do his thing," in an elderly care home.

"We don't want him to go through this again."

Bender said some families try to prevent wandering by placing red stop signs or motion detectors at the door.

And nearly 1,000 Hawaii Alzheimer's or dementia patients have been cataloged through Bender's office in a Department of Justice registry that identifies participants with a bracelet or "dog tag."

The tags have a toll-free number for people who find a wanderer to call, while the registry holds information about the person including personal characteristics and caretaker contact numbers.

But Bender stressed whatever the method, care givers or family members should take proactive steps to prevent Alzheimer's patients from becoming lost.

Another Alzheimer's patient, 80-year-old Masayuki Kubo, left his Kakaako condominium on June 23, 2001, and has not been seen since.

"Don't wait until the loved one gets lost," Bender said.

E-mail to City Desk


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