When Is a Missing Person Missing—Or Really Needs Long-Term Help?

In the past three weeks, Margaret Woodman, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, has gone missing three times.

As soon as a person or child is reported missing, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department acts immediately. Detectives enter the individual’s name into the Missing Person database along with any other information. A San Mateo County alert is sent out to those subscribed to the email or text alerts.

No matter who the person is—child, teenager, or adult—, the department is required to act, said Detective Sergeant Jim Tanner of the Sheriff’s Department.

So when Margaret Woodman, 67, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, was reported missing after a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, detectives entered her name into the database, for the third time in a month. After a nine-hour search, she was found at the Menlo Park Police Department. Her name was subsequently removed from the database.

“It’s paramount when/if missing persons return home, that their families tell us so we can remove their name from the [Missing and Unidentified Persons] system,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Rebecca Rosenblatt.

Family members also reported Woodman missing two other times, one on Jan. 24 and a second time on Feb. 9, both of which she was found on the same day.

The second time, deputies went to her family's home for a follow-up the next morning when they learned from her family she had been found in the Stanford area during the night," Rosenblatt said.

“If a person is missing several times in that time frame, we will get other agencies involved,” Tanner said.

If a child is repeatedly missing, sheriff’s detectives will involve Child Protective Services or Juvenile Probation, Tanner said. Similarly, Adult Protective Services may be called if the situation is dire.

“We want to get them the appropriate care provider they need,” Tanner said.

The county has a specific website for Aging and Adult Services. As many Patch readers mentioned in the comments section, caregiving is an enormous and difficult task. There is a website for care for caregivers as well.  


So tell us in the comments section below: How do you care for an aging family member with a debilitating illness? 

Vanessa Castañeda February 19, 2013 at 11:10 PM
It could be as simple as putting a bracelet on her that tracks her whereabouts.
Michele February 20, 2013 at 12:38 AM
It is very hard taking care of a parent/spouse with Alzheimer's . You really don't want to put them in a home or you can't afford to. If you are lucky enough to have family that is there to support you and lend a hand is great but sometimes you do not have that to fall back on. It is very costly to hire someone to help out in the home. My heart goes out to the family and families who have a loved one with Alzheimer's.
Cristal Pepin February 20, 2013 at 07:14 PM
To Vanessa Castaneda, re: bracelet idea. It is a good one - but I don't think it's that simple - just yet. It was about a year ago that I searched for something to track the whereabouts of an adult with memory problems. From my recollection, in general - anything that will "broadcast" a signal, as to the (possible long-range) whereabouts of someone - requires a battery - which needs re-charging. When I researched things, there was nothing small enough to be worn, waterproof, that would last/broadcast for an extended time. I found something with a longer-lasting battery that was the size of a very small cell phone that could be hidden in a purse (and be good on battery for up to 2 weeks?). But what if they forget to take their purse? Some devices I found were wearable (bracelet, or in-shoe), but the battery lasts about the typical time that a cell phone battery does. Who will charge the battery? (which means the device is not on the adult). How do you make sure they are wearing the device if/when they decide to go out? It is a tough problem and my heart goes out to the patient and families affected. Best wishes to all.
Vanessa Castañeda February 20, 2013 at 10:28 PM
Cristal, this is certainly not an easy problem to solve. You've made some very valid points. A friend of mine has a watch that winds itself with energy dispelled by the movements of his wrist. I wonder f that technology would be sufficient to create enough power to keep a GPS wristband working for a while.
SabrinaC February 22, 2013 at 04:45 PM
I remember back in the 80's going out grandpa hunting with a friend. They had installed a transmitter in his favorite hat because he loved to go for walks. We would get two people in the car - one to drive and the other to point a dish receiver out the side window to locate the signal. Basically whenever he went out for a walk, his wife would give him an hour and then call in the family to go find him. They were very good natured about it and had time to do that, luckily...


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