HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) — The North Carolina Center for Missing Persons reports there have been 167 silver alerts issued so far this year.
People with cognitive impairments wander off more often than we realize.
This time last year, several agencies and community groups spent a week searching for Heddie Dawkins, 81, who suffered from dementia and disappeared from her High Point home.
Her friends and family gathered Wednesday evening for a remembrance ceremony to mark one year since her death.
Her loved ones said they were so impressed with how the entire community stepped up to help their family. They wanted to continue Heddie’s legacy of bringing people together with this ceremony.
Heddie’s son, Bert Dawkins, said he’s had good and bad days in the past year. One good thing to come out of this tragedy is the work his family is now doing to help people with Alzheimer’s.
“That’s why we do what we do now because we don’t want anyone else to go through what we went through,” said Bert.
Data from the Alzheimer’s Association shows six in ten people with dementia will wander off at least once.
More than 70 percent of people living with the disease live at home. That was the case for Heddie, who left her house on Blockhouse Court in the early hours of the morning on August 24, 2022.
“I just relived everything all over again,” said Bert. “I can remember every moment vividly.”
Bert was one of hundreds of people who took to the streets, searching for his mother through all hours of the night. One week after Heddie walked off, search crews found her body in the woods less than a mile away from her home, which is very common.
“Many of them are found just within about a mile of their home from where they have wandered,” said Courtenay O’Donoghue, who works with the Western North Carolina Alzheimer’s Association.
The organization has worked closely with the Dawkins family since Heddie’s death, raising money and participating in the annual walk.
Part of the organization’s mission is to provide resources for first responders on how to identify a person with dementia. Guilford County Sheriff’s Office is one of more than 60 organizations that has the Project Lifesaver Program. It helps deputies provide a timely response when people with cognitive conditions wander.
“We want to save time,” said Sergeant Aline Almonor. “Time is crucial when someone goes missing.”
The sheriff’s office was one of several agencies working during that week last year to find Heddie. The community support was overwhelming for the Dawkins family.
“It’s probably not a day that goes by that I don’t think about those people, the love and support we received,” said Bert.
The Alzheimer’s Association is having its Walk to End Alzheimer’s on October 7, which the Dawkins family will be participating in.