Hellen's Law could improve search efforts for the missing

Hellen's Law could help those missing who are unable to care for themselves.

Six out of every ten Alzheimer's patients wander.

It's just one symptom of the degenerative brain disease that affects nearly 5 million Americans.

"It's very common in the disease for a very familiar setting to all of a sudden become very unfamiliar. You can be unfamiliar in your own home and not know where you are," said Janie Bonham, the early stage care consultant at the Greater Missouri Alzheimer's Association.

Who's at risk for wandering off?

Signs include a person trying to fulfill a former obligation, such as going to work.

Others try to go home even if they are already at home, or get anxious around crowds, such as at shopping malls.

Bonham said Hellen Cook was a nurse who loved to go on long walks, and likely got disoriented while on her own.

When search crews finally located her, she was near a pond where they had previously searched.

"They don't respond when people are calling their name because they may not recognize their own name. They hear people shouting, they hear dogs barking, and they tend to hide instead of standing up and waving saying 'here I am, here I am. They tend to withdraw even more," said Joetta Coen, the Director of Programs and Services at the Greater MO Alzheimer's Association.

That's why family of Cook met with state representatives Wanda Brown and John Mayfield Sunday to propose "Hellen's Law."

The law would help enhance and speed up search efforts.

The family is working on getting all the preliminary work done before the legislative session begins in January.

Cook's daughter, Terri, said,"A toddler or an Alzheimer's patient who's not capable of caring for themselves...I mean they can't even dial a phone...If you've got someone like that who goes missing, everything should kick in right now."

Steps include getting the appropriate alert issued, submitting information immediately to all missing persons databases, and receiving a list of all search resources available across Missouri, such as water rescue or canine teams.

Caretakers can enroll their loved ones in the Alzheimer's Association Medic-Alert Safe Return program that issues a bracelet or necklace with the caretaker's contact information for the patient to wear.

Authorities can use this information to match with a missing persons picture in their database to bring the patient home safely.

The annual Walk to End Alzheimer's is sponsored by KRCG 13 in Columbia and Jefferson City this year. If you would like to register or get more information about the disease, go to