For so many people, vacations are a break from the mundane. While many look forward to this time of year, it can also be a stressful time, especially for people with dementia and developmental disorders such as Down syndrome and autism. You may end up wandering.
49% of children with autism have wandered away from safe supervision and 60% of people with dementia have wandered at least once. Minnesota has seen these stories come to a tragic end.
In 2015, six-year-old Hamza Elmi, an autistic boy, wandered away from his family’s home in St. Cloud. His disappearance launched a search that brought together police officers, reporters and community members. Sadly, Hamza’s body was found the next morning in the Mississippi River just blocks from his home. As St. Cloud Times’ John Bodet said at the time, “Our entire community has lost a son.”
Two years later, in 2017, the Duluth community was devastated by the loss of Mary and Ron Tarnowski after 59 years of marriage. Decades ago, Mary had a stroke and Ron assumed responsibility as her caregiver. But as he got older and showed signs of early-stage dementia, the job became harder to do. One afternoon, Ron and Mary drove out of their home in Duluth without their cell phones. A few days later, after a protracted search, their car was found in a swamp 30 miles away. Neither survived.
Over the years, the Missing Alzheimer’s Alert Program has been very successful in reuniting wandering people with dementia with their families. That is why I am leading a bipartisan bill with Iowa Republican Sen. supported It is now called the Missing Americans Alert Program. Our bill also included funds to educate caregivers on how to prevent wandering and to equip law enforcement with the tools needed to retrieve missing loved ones. This law was named Kevin and Abonte’s Law in honor of her two boys who died as a result of a wandering incident.
With this important program set to expire, Senator Grassley and I knew we had to act. We are proud to extend this through 2027 through the Kevin and Abonte Law Reauthorization Act passed as part of the Defense Authorization Act. None of this would have been possible without the tremendous work of a broad coalition of disability and patient advocates who have come together to support this legislation.
For law enforcement, this means families are more likely to be reunited. For caregivers, this means lifesaving training on anti-wandering. For loved ones, this means peace of mind. And for people living with disabilities, this means living in a country with better resources to keep them safe.
We look forward to continuing to work with the state’s disability community in the coming year to ensure that all people with disabilities in Minnesota live safe and healthy lives.
Amy Klobuchar is a Minnesota Senator who was first elected in 2006.