PAWTUCKET, R.I. — She seemed to appear out of nowhere, an elegant elderly woman who had trouble walking near an intersection in Pawtucket.
She believed she was in New York City, on her way to see a friend. She wasn’t sure of her own name but thought it might be Madeline. Or perhaps Alluida.
It took a week to figure out who she is. Her identity led to a new mystery -- how a woman who disappeared from New York City several years ago ended up alone and lost in Rhode Island.
Pawtucket Detective Sergeant Christopher LeFort said Tuesday evening that they’d identified the woman as 78-year-old Madeline Alioudor of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Since she had mentioned New York City, Pawtucket Sergeant Dan Ashworth and Detective Craig Letourneau had been checking with police there to see if there was any record of a woman named Madeline with a last name like Alluida, LeFort said.
Detectives in Brooklyn found a close match in a police report years back, where Alioudor’s son had been a victim of a crime, LeFort said.
Letourneau reached Alioudor’s son and sent him the picture that Pawtucket police had taken of the woman after finding her on the street. He recognized her and was thrilled the police had found her, LeFort said.
The son told Letourneau that he hadn’t seen his mother in years, LeFort said. She had been living with a friend and one day, she disappeared.
The son told police that his mother had dementia, and no one knew where she’d gone, LeFort said.
Why Rhode Island? Why Pawtucket? “No one knows what the connection is here,” LeFort said.
Her identity had been a mystery since police found her standing, confused, on a sidewalk near homes and a small tavern at Suffolk and Grand avenues around 2:45 p.m. on New Year’s Day. She had no ID, no money, no bus ticket, or anything to show how she’d gotten there, LeFort said. She told police she thought she was in New York City and mentioned having two sons, he said.
Even in a small city like Pawtucket, no one appeared to know her, he said.
“Usually, in cases like this, we’ll find someone and do some investigating and bring them back to station, and within a short period of time, we’ll have someone contact us,” LeFort said. But, he said, it was unusual “to have something go for days with a couple of tips, and no one saying ‘my mother left the house.'”
She was taken to Miriam Hospital for care, while the police contacted the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging. Police suspected that she had dementia, but her condition wasn’t known.
LeFort said that police put Alioudor’s son in touch with the social worker in charge of her care.
While the risk of wandering is fairly common for people with dementia, it’s unusual for someone to be lost from their loved ones for this long, said Nicole McGurin, family services of director of the Alzheimer’s Association chapter in New Hampshire and Maine.
“What’s difficult for families is it’s impossible to know when someone will wander,” McGurin said. “Anyone with memory problems and able to walk is at risk for wandering.”
She recommends that caregivers plan appropriate supervision and obtain medical alert ID bracelets for their loved ones with dementia. When someone encounters a person who seems confused or wandering, “call 911 and connect them with a first responder,” McGurin said. “Don’t ignore it.”
Those calls helped alert Pawtucket police to the elderly woman last week, said LeFort.
“This is every family’s nightmare,” said Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee, chairman of Rhode Island’s long term care coordinating council and leader of the Alzheimer’s Executive Board.
On Wednesday, McKee will help lead a committee set up by the General Assembly to discuss issues for research and caregiving for people with Alzheimer’s and related diseases. He said he wants to raise awareness of the disease, to help those who are caring for people with Alzheimer’s as well as the general public.
“Age-friendly communities are going to be the communities that make people aware that individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s could end up on your doorstep, and what do you do,” McKee said. “It’s an issue we should respond to with empathy.”
Pawtucket police ask anyone with information about the woman to contact investigators at 401-727-9100.
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org