Overnight search highlights challenges for Alzheimer's patients, families

Coy Wilkinson, 77, was missing for several hours overnight.
Published: .
Updated: .

An Alzheimer's patient is safe at home following a massive search effort that included police, firefighters and a helicopter.

Coy Wilkinson, 77, was missing for several hours during freezing temperatures overnight after taking his dog for a walk around 2:30 a.m. near Brookville Road and Kitley Avenue.

Nearly 60 IMPD and IFD personnel, along with two K-9 officers, searched area woods, sheds and homes. Police also launched a search helicopter. But around 8 a.m., someone dropped him off near home. Wilkinson was checked out for signs of exposure, but did not have to be taken to the hospital.

Living with Alzheimer's is becoming a daily challenge for more Indiana families. There is no cure, but there is help to prevent near tragedies like Wilkinson's.

Dennis Dijak is one of the 120,000 Hoosiers suffering from Alzheimer's. Caring for him, keeping him safe became Diana Dijak's full time job.

"Just like a child," Diana explained. "If it gets really quiet, you don't know what's happening. You better track him down and see what's going on."

Day and night for seven years.

"As a caregiver, you get so exhausted. You don't sleep well. Like having a child, you don't sleep at night," she said.

Even after Diana and her son installed a motion detector and checked the locks in their Greenfield home and accepted help from others.

"I'm surprised I've lasted this long," she said with a half-sigh, half-laugh.

It is a painful dilemma facing an alarming number of families. One in three seniors are dying of Alzheimer's or other dementia. The Alzheimer's Association expects those numbers to increase drastically, from the five-million Americans living with the disease now, to more than seven-million - a 40 percent increase 12 years from now.

Although there is no cure, there is help.

"People don't know there are groups out there to help them," said Kristi Ritchie of the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Indiana.

Ritchie can recite a long list of education, counseling, care giving and other assistance available from the Alzheimer's Association and other groups. There is even a 24-hour help hotline.

"We can also provide steps to keep you loved ones safe," she added.

There are special identification bracelets in case loved ones wander off.

Project Lifesaver provides electronic locater bracelets to Alzheimer's and autism patients. Rescuers can hone in on the radio beacon and find them more quickly and easily.

Diana Dijak's husband is now in a nursing home, giving her some peace of mind and, she says, time to help other families losing their loved ones to the despair Alzheimer's.

Unfortunately, there isn't enough help for all the families who need it. Some local communities provide those electronic locator bracelets for free. In Marion County, they cost $300 and there is a waiting list of families who can't afford them.

If you want to help or need help, here are some agencies to contact:

Marion County residents may call the Indianapolis Fire Department at (800) 609-8449.

Wayne Township residents may call 317-246-6217.

Project lifesaver

Autism Society of Indiana

Alzheimer's Association of Indiana