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Ray of hope shines from loss of Alzheimer’s victim

Nancy Paulikas, an Alzheimer’s sufferer, has died, but LA Found helps people like her who go missing

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Courtesy ‘Nancy is Missing’ Facebook page
Nancy Paulikas, who suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s, was confirmed dead by the LA County coroner’s office on Dec. 26 after having been missing for two years. Since September, a program inspired by her search called LA Found has helped locate three others in the county like her who have gotten lost.

The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner (DMEC) confirmed last week that Nancy Paulikas– a 55-year-old woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s who had gone missing in October 2016 while visiting a museum with her husband– has died.

According to the coroner’s office, Paulikas’s body had burned in a March 11, 2017, fire in Sherman Oaks, miles from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where her husband, Kirk Moody, had taken her on Oct. 16, 2016. She had become separated from him after visiting a restroom in the museum.

“I heard from the police today that they have identified a skull and some ribs as positively matching Nancy’s DNA,” Moody posted on his social-media site ‘Nancy is Missing’ on Dec. 26.

Moody and Paulikas’s parents, George and Joan Paulikas, had kept up hope that Nancy would return, increasing a reward for finding her as recently as October 2018, two years after her disappearance.

Just two months later, on Dec. 27, the coroner’s office reported that investigators had gone to Fossil Ridge Park in Sherman Oaks on March 11, 2017, to study a skull discovered by firefighters. The investigators sent a sample to the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ) for DNA analysis in April 2017.

Coroner investigators then found bones on Sept. 13, 2018, near the same area of the park where the skull was discovered, and sent those samples for DNA analysis, as well.

“On Dec. 26, 2018, CA DOJ notified DMEC that the remains […] belonged to the same decedent and that the person matched Paulikas’s DNA,” the coroner’s report states. “The cause and manner of her death remain undetermined.”

Sarah Ardalani, DMEC’s public-information officer, told the Signal Tribune on Dec. 31 that there have been no further developments in Paulikas’s case and that normally any further investigation would have to be initiated by law-enforcement officials.

Photo by Axel Koester
Kirk Moody spoke to the media on Oct. 15, 2018, about his missing wife, Nancy Paulikas, two years after her disappearance. Paulikas suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and had wandered away from her husband Oct. 16, 2016, while at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The LA County coroner’s office confirmed on Dec. 26 that remains found after a Sherman Oaks fire on March 11, 2017, belonged to Paulikas.

LA Found
“I am heartbroken,” Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Janice Hahn said in a Dec. 26 press statement. “For two years we have kept hope alive that Nancy would be found safe and could be reunited with her family.”

But Hahn stressed that Moody’s search had provided the inspiration for LA Found, a countywide program to find lost individuals.

“He has not only been unyielding in his search for his wife, but wanted to make sure no one else would have to go through what he did,” Hahn said.

A Los Angeles County Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services Department (WDACS) task force named Bring Our Loved Ones Home (BOLOH) credits those who looked for Paulikas as inspiration for its initiative.

“As they continued an exhaustive search for Nancy, their knowledge— grounded in this dire experience— informed and provided momentum to the task force,” BOLOH stated in its February 2018 report.

Based on BOLOH’s findings, Hahn, in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department (LASD) and WDACS, launched LA Found in September 2018, one of 17 programs over three years designed to protect, locate and identify individuals prone to wandering.

As reported in the Signal Tribune, LA Found offers trackable bracelets provided by nonprofit organization Project Lifesaver that are locatable using receivers in LASD helicopters and designated ground units.

“If you have cared for someone with dementia or autism, you know the fear of what might happen if you turn your back for just one minute,” Hahn said in support of the program.

The LA County Board of Supervisors approved a $30,000 budget last February to purchase new equipment for law enforcement and join Project Lifesaver as a member agency.

It also approved $85,000 for alerts and registering and tracking bracelets. The budget includes providing a free bracelet to affected individuals who cannot afford its $325 one-time cost.

Liz Odendahl, Hahn’s communications director, told the Signal Tribune on Jan. 2 that the County has issued 215 bracelets to date.

Three persons have been located using the bracelets so far– two elderly people with Alzheimer’s in September, as reported in the Signal Tribune, and one just before Christmas.

“The two people found in September were found relatively quickly […] by people who had seen them and called the number on the bracelet, which went to LA Found,” Odendahl said.

One of them, like Paulikas, had wandered miles away, which is not unusual. Though a person with dementia can forget their home address, they may remember how to take a bus or hitch a ride, Odendahl said.

Courtesy LA Found
The above image is of a tracking bracelet provided by the LA Found program to qualifying individuals who suffer from Alzheimer’s, dementia or autism and may be prone to wandering.

The third individual– Cathy, a 63-year-old woman with dementia– had wandered from her Los Angeles home on Dec. 20.

Law enforcement was not able to locate her signal right away and believed she may have boarded a bus or gotten a ride to avoid the cold, Hahn’s office reported.

LASD Sgt. Brandon Barclay picked up Cathy’s bracelet signal on Dec. 21 and located her under a freeway underpass in Highland Park. 

“The officer who found her said that without the tracking equipment, she would not have been seen,” Odendahl said.

Odendahl noted that Cathy is the first person in the county to have been located using the bracelet’s tracking feature as opposed to the two who had been found in September by “reverse identification,” or people calling the number on their bracelets.

“These Project Lifesaver bracelets work,” Cathy’s husband said in a press statement after his wife was found. “I am so grateful this program exists.”

In a Dec. 24 press release, Hahn credited law enforcement, as well as the program for finding Cathy.

“Cathy is home safe for Christmas because of LA Found and the hard work of our LASD and LAPD,” Hahn said. “If you have a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s, dementia or autism, I encourage you to learn more about LA Found and see if a trackable bracelet is right for your family.”

Wanderers
According to LA Found, 60 percent of those with Alzheimer’s and 49 percent– or nearly half – of those with autism will wander and go missing at some point in their lives.

LA County has more than 177,000 residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other developmental disorders that make them susceptible to wandering, plus an estimated 135,000 children with autism.

Nearly 28,000 individuals in LA County went missing in 2016, many of whom had neurobehavioral conditions affecting memory, judgment, cognitive functioning and/or ability to communicate with and relate to others, according to the BOLOH task force.

The task force determined in its final report that Project Lifesaver provided the best technology solution.

Project Lifesaver bracelets are not monitored constantly, but when an someone wearing one goes missing, caregivers can call 911, and law enforcement will deploy receivers to help locate the missing person.

The bracelet uses radio frequency technology to transmit an electronic “chirping” signal to help rescuers locate the wearer, according to LA Found.

To qualify for the program, caregivers must schedule a phone interview with either LASD or WDACS through LA Found’s website, lafound.com. Once an individual qualifies, a caregiver can purchase and register the bracelet with the Sheriff’s Department, or receive a free bracelet through the county.

“We have bracelets available right now,” Odendahl said. “We have funding [and] we believe we will have funding to get more once we get through these bracelets.”

Two years after his wife’s disappearance, Moody said through his website that an LA Found bracelet might have saved Nancy.

“If these practices had existed two years ago, we might not need to be here today,” Moody said. “We hope that these efforts can prevent any other family having to go through what we have experienced.”

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Ray of hope shines from loss of Alzheimer’s victim