January 30, 2014

Your Advocacy Connection – My Walk on a Florida Beach

By Julie Arndt
GolderCare Solutions

We Solve Long Term Care Problems

My Walk on a Florida Beach

Recently, Jamie Long, Julie Arndt and I were asked to speak at the third Annual Professional Patient Advocate Institute in Florida. It was a gathering of patient advocates from all over the country, practicing in several different capacities. It was an invigorating conference, and we came away anxious to apply what we learned back in the QCA. Oddly enough, it was during my “few extra days alone” on the beach following the conference, when I was quite unexpectedly called to assist a stranger. I was reminded we are all in a position to help when the need arises.

After the conference, I took the opportunity to stay a few extra days to enjoy the warm weather. One of my very favorite things to do in the whole world is to take long walks on the beach. (a bit cliché, I know!) There were several other people on the beach doing the same thing. At this time of year, there are no lifeguards in stands, and on this day, the waves were very big. We were all enjoying watching the surfers, boys on skim boards and the jet skis in the surf.

As I walked, I took notice of a woman walking toward me, far off in the distance. She appeared to be out of place, talking to every passing person but never stopping. This seemed odd to me, so I watched closely as I walked. As she came closer, I could see that she was an elderly woman who was neatly dressed, but it was apparent that she was not dressed for the beach. My interest was piqued. As she approached, I realized something just was not right. When she finally reached me, she looked up with a look of sheer terror in her eyes, as she desperately asked me if I had seen
her sister.

At this point, I knew something was seriously wrong. She was frantic. She spoke of the need to find her sister, so that they could get home before her parents became angry with them. Her conversation confirmed what I had already suspected. She was suffering some type of dementia, and she was lost. I looked at her wrists for some sort of identification or lifeline bracelet. I asked her if I could see her pretty necklace to see if it had any identification. Unfortunately, there was nothing. I told the woman that I could find somebody who could help her find her sister. I was fearful that she would walk into the surf and drown, step on a jelly fish, become dehydrated or fall victim to someone who might take advantage of her. In order to bring her along with me, I took her hand and began walking towards the lifeguard headquarters, reassuring her all along the quarter mile walk to the lifeguard tower.

Once I arrived at the lifeguard headquarters, I summoned one of the guards and asked them to call the police and to make sure they sent an Elder Services Officer. People began to mill around and crowd in on the lady. She became like a caged animal and began to panic. I shooed the people away and talked to her while waiting for the police. When they arrived, I briefed them on what happened and told them they needed to summon a professional who had specialty training in dealing with elderly dementia patients. Soon, the Senior Services Officer arrived and took control. They were going to take the lady to the hospital and try to find family or caregivers.

The dangers for this woman were innumerable. She could have wandered into the water and been swept away, she could have encountered an unscrupulous individual, she could have walked out into the street, she could have been hurt by stepping on a jellyfish or a sharp shell. I was in awe that no one, not out of all those whom she had talked, suspected she was in trouble, that something wasn’t right. No one was helping her. This was a clear reminder to me that although we do patient advocacy as a business, we are all called to be a Good Samaritan Advocate at any given time…just a reminder of why this is so important.

Perhaps even more importantly, if you are a family member or a caregiver for any elderly person or someone with dementia, it is vitally important that there be some sort of emergency plan. Locally, there are several programs to help ensure a safe return to home or respond in the case of an emergency. We have all heard the commercials, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” If this woman had been wearing an emergency response bracelet or necklace, the button could have been utilized to call for help. Even if she had some sort of identification (Safe Return), her family could have been contacted immediately. As it happens, she was very much alone and quite vulnerable.

Kathy Nitz is a Benefits Advocate for GolderCare Solutions. She uses her wealth of knowledge and experience in benefits planning to advocate for seniors and those who are disabled.