Finding Ingrid: when family matters most

In February, Kari’s mother disappeared for one day from the nursing home. Thanks to an amazing community response, she was found safe and well. Kari hopes that, in the future, technology can help make dementia patients like her mother freer and safer.

Written: Oct 2019

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Ingrid Erlandsen is 86 years old and has dressed herself especially for a visit. We meet her with her daughter Kari at Mariehaven nursing home outside Sandvika, where Ingrid now lives. But this is not “home” to Ingrid. The former hotel manager who for years ran her own business in the mountainous Rondane region often feels the mountains calling. It was towards the mountains she was heading when she left her then home in February, alone. That was the beginning of 24 hours of anxiety and stress for Kari and her family.

“My mother has always been active and has had many ongoing projects,” Kari tells us when we meet in a small garden near her mother’s nursing home. “Our parents ran Rondane Høyfjellshotell and my mother was working around the clock with four children and responsibility for many employees. Since she became ill, my mother has lived more and more in the past; the memories from that time become closer as short-term memory fails.”

When Ingrid disappeared this winter, Kari was central to an extensive search operation that, in addition to family and friends, included the police, hundreds of volunteers from the Red Cross Search and Rescue Corps, Norwegian People’s Aid and Norwegian Rescue Dogs, as well as a number of media. As a press contact for the operation, she experienced remarkable commitment from fellow community members and journalists who took a personal interest in finding the missing 86-year-old.

“In that cold, every minute and every hour was crucial,” Kari remembers about the search effort. “The police and the volunteers worked systematically and technology was used actively to manage the search operation. All the major newspapers posted pictures of my mother to get tips and observations. National newspapers contacted me to ask if they should move the story and her picture higher up on the front page. The public transport company Ruter sent out a picture to all its drivers and the railway station provided surveillance pictures. Several people told their own stories about their experience of being relatives of dementia patients.”

Eventually, Ingrid was found in the nearby town of Stabekk. Having wandered from the care home where she lived, she had sought shelter for the weather and the cold. Her body temperature was just 31 degrees.

“Fortunately, my mother was ok. She’s in good shape and has been given better conditions where she lives. It was great to see how effectively the services work when something like this happens. We are incredibly grateful to everyone involved in the search,” says Kari.

That said, Kari does not hide her impatience with technological advances that could contribute in the work for and with dementia patients.

“The solutions that exist today aren’t good enough. We hope my mother’s story can help bring better and more user-friendly solutions. Mom had her own necklace and watch with GPS tracking, but she often took these off. The devices that exist today also have the disadvantage that the operating time is short due to limited battery capacity. There is a need for more user-friendly and functional tracking technology that is better suited to these users. The experience from the search operation taught me that this is a problem for many people.”

While Kari’s expectations of health sector technology to solve some of the issues experienced by her mother and her family, she also understands the challenges.

“This is a demanding patient group for both health care services and relatives. My mother feels that it’s very difficult, sometimes incomprehensible, to have to live with locked doors and limited opportunities to move or get out. She keeps asking if she’s done anything wrong. For a health care system with limited resources, there will always be a need to free up time and resources in order to provide better follow-up and treatment.”

Ultimately, though, Kari’s expectations of technology are matched by her fundamental belief in its power to benefit society.

“I am particularly passionate about two important areas where technology can make big differences in the future: the health sector and the environment. It is obvious that technology can contribute with new and better solutions than what we have today.”