Dementia patients can be prone to confusion that can cause them to wander off. When you lose them, then what? Certainly, there is a lot of stress for the family members of the missing person while police officers and local law enforcement agencies search for them.
That’s why the Safe Return Program is such a coveted option for adult children and caretakers of dementia patients.
What is the Safe Return Program? The Safe Return Program, through the Alzheimer’s Association, is a program that allows for dementia patients to be identified and reunited with their loved ones or caretakers. Participants of the program wear identification products, such as a Safe Return label, key chain, lapel pin, necklace, or bracelet.
If you want to learn more about the Safe Return Program before enrolling your senior with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, this is the article for you.
Ahead, we’ll explain the ins and outs of the Safe Return Program, as well as who pays for it, so keep reading!
What Is Safe Return?
As we established the intro, the Safe Return Program was created by the Alzheimer’s Association. The program is a nationwide initiative that seeks to find dementia patients who have wandered off and gotten lost, identify them, and then reunite them with loved ones or caregivers.
Here’s how it works.
The Safe Return Program participant will have a means of identification, usually an ID bracelet. We’ll discuss this more in the next section.
When wearing that, if the dementia patient gets lost and someone notices that the patient is a member of the Safe Return Program, they’re supposed to follow a certain protocol.
They should dial an toll-free number and talk to a dispatcher. The dispatcher will talk with the person who called the 800 number to try to collect details about the dementia patient for emergency personnel.
When you enroll your senior into the Safe Return Program registry, you must provide critical information for them.
This information will include their physical description, a current photo, their health information, and identifying characteristics that would make a stranger capable of picking out the dementia patient.
Through the Safe Return Program registration information (stored on a secure record database), the dispatcher should be able to have a good idea of which lost person the caller has found.
The dispatcher will then work with the local police department as well as the adult children and/or caretakers of that dementia patient to track them down.
Then the dementia patient is reunited with their loved ones or caretakers.
What Is A Safe Return Bracelet?
Members of the Safe Return Program should wear their identification bracelet so that everyday people can identify the person as being associated with the program. The identifier can also include a clothing label, keychain, lapel pin, or necklace.
The bracelet is usually made of metal and features a simple chain with a pendant in the center.
The pendant will typically say “medical alert” in blue or red and feature a serpent and staff in the center that’s the same color.
On the flip side of the bracelet is the 800 number to call to contact the Safe Return Program dispatcher on their toll-free crisis line.
If the dependent adult has allergies, that will be mentioned on the opposite side of the pendant, as will the level of memory loss / impairment the dementia patient has.
The Safe Return bracelet will show the words “call immediately” and usually “memory impaired” as well.
How Much Does The Safe Return Program Cost?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, to enroll your senior, “Members are required to purchase an ID bracelet or accessory, and an Advantage or Advantage Plus membership to participate in the Wandering Support program.”
The Advantage membership costs $49.99 per year in 2022. The Advantage Plus membership costs $74.99 annually. You can check current prices here.
The medical IDs are different prices, depending on what type you choose (bracelet, necklace, etc).
Does Medicare Cover Medical ID Bracelets?
So this probably has you wondering who’s going to foot the bill for the cost of a membership and a Safe Return medical ID bracelet?
Medicare pays for many parts of your dementia patient’s care, but a medical ID bracelet is usually not going to be one of them. The bracelet is not considered reimbursable medical equipment.
However, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. You can always try these options for low-cost or no-cost medical ID bracelets.
The Medicare Advantage Plan is a Part C or MA Plan that private companies associated with Medicare will offer.
With a Medicare Advantage Plan in your senior’s name, the Part C plan may cover the entirety of the costs or some of the costs associated with the medical ID bracelet.
Does your senior with dementia still have their own health insurance? This is another avenue to explore if trying to get their Safe Return bracelet paid for.
Your senior’s doctor might have to vouch for your loved one and sing off on the need for a medical alert bracelet to qualify for coverage.
Area hospitals are yet a third option that could provide discounted medical ID bracelets. Be sure to check veterans’ hospitals if your senior served in the military.
Out Of Pocket
How much does a medical alert bracelet cost if you must pay for it out-of-pocket? While it varies, the price is usually between $45 and $55.
Compared to many medications and equipment that a dementia patient needs, a Safe Return bracelet is considered relatively low-cost.
Other Dementia Wandering Prevention Ideas
While we certainly recommend enrolling your senior in the Safe Return Program if they’ve been diagnosed with dementia and have wandered off before, that’s not your only avenue.
The following wandering prevention ideas should be used in conjunction with a Safe Return Program membership.
Create A Calming Environment
Admittedly, even the best environments are not necessarily going to keep a dementia patient from wandering off. However, the quieter and calmer the environment is, the better.
Avoid loud sounds, such as television and music, as well as cooking clings and clatters. Limit raising your voice as much as you can. Prevent too much over-stimulation.
These kinds of triggers can cause a dementia patient to want to escape a situation as soon as they can. They’re not necessarily thinking about where they’re going; they’re just focused on getting away from what they perceive as a stressful and potentially dangerous situation.
Alarms are your best friend when trying to keep a dementia patient at home. In this post, we recommended a variety of alarms, some of which are made just for seniors with dementia.
Motion alarms are very useful. The alarm will go off if your senior gets out of bed, for example, or when they open the front door to try to exit.
You can even buy floor mat alerts so that when your senior steps out of their bedroom, you’ll know it immediately.
Install Keyless Door Locks
Keyless door locks could be the way of the future, but they’re the present for many adult children caring for patients with dementia.
Without a key, your senior can’t possibly find their way out. A keyless door lock would be too confusing for them to understand.
That said, be confident in your own knowledge of the keyless door lock so you don’t end up locking yourself out.
Camouflage The Doors
Although this seems mean, camouflaging the doors is a simple and effective way to prevent a dementia patient with wandering tendencies from finding their way outside.
A door covering such as wallpaper, paint, or a curtain makes it harder for your senior to tell where the wall ends, and the door begins. If they’re confused about exiting, they won’t be able to do it.
If you’re still not using a keyless door lock (which, you really should), then you must get crafty about where you keep your keys.
Don’t put keys on a chain in your purse or work bag, as your senior can find them. A key bowl is also out of the question.
Rather, use a faux stone, a fake sprinkler, or even the birdhouse to obscure your keys. You can slot them behind your car’s license plate (if you’re not worried about the key slipping out while you’re driving, that is) or in a brick.
Your senior won’t think to look in any of these areas.
Use A GPS Tracker
GPS trackers are a mighty handy device for the dementia patient in your life.
Whether it’s GPS wearable jewelry, GPS watches, or even a pendant clipped to their clothing, where your senior goes, you’ll be able to follow them through the locating device.
The Safe Return Program through the Alzheimer’s Association is a program for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. Enrollees register their senior’s pertinent information on the registration form, such as physical appearance, medical information, and contact information. Then, they choose a medical ID bracelet or necklace that can help to identify the person.
Should your senior wander, they can be reunited with you through the Safe Return Program.
Outside of that program, you might also consider a GPS tracker, home alerts, keyless door locks, and obscuring the doors to help keep your senior with dementia from wandering.