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Family of 89-year-old drowning victim calls for increased Alzheimer’s awareness

Drowning victim’s family speaks out

An Indianapolis family called for increased awareness of safety risks associated with dementia and Alzheimer's disease after a tragic incident on the city's northwest side.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An Indianapolis family called for increased awareness of safety risks associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease after a tragic incident on the city’s northwest side.

Ella Minor, 89, wandered off Friday morning and drowned in a retention pond several blocks from her home, near Georgetown Road and West 56th Street, relatives said.

Cameron Taylor, Minor’s son-in-law, reported finding her body several hours after she was last seen alive by a neighbor.

“I could see the tennis shoes I knew she wore and I immediately knew it was her,” Taylor told News 8. “I saw her shoes and I knew.”

Minor loved shoes and clothes, even after her Alzheimer’s symptoms began worsening several months before her death.

“She was very particular about her dress,” Taylor said, laughing. “Especially on Sundays for church. She always made sure that she was matching and her shoes were matching.”

Ella Minor, 89, loved getting dressed up for church, relatives said. (PHOTO: Cameron Taylor)

Photos provided by Minor’s family show the octogenarian dressed in bell-sleeved sheaths, floral blazers and ruffled skirt suits. A recent photo, taken in her living room, shows Minor in a purple A-line dress with a matching walking cane.

Her flair for color coordination and attention to detail were impressive, considering her vision; Minor was legally blind, relatives said.

“She probably couldn’t see the water before she fell in the pond,” Taylor told News 8. “I walked all around the edge. There’s quite an incline. [It’s] not real easy to keep one’s balance next to the water.”

Neighbors with backyards adjacent to the pond did not witness the accident, they told police.

Authorities were unable to confirm Minor’s time of death. Taylor suspected she drowned hours before relatives realized she was missing and urged other families to invest in tracking devices for loved ones with dementia.

“Even though she had never done this before, it behooves all of us — when we’re dealing with patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s — that we go to the extremes,” he said. “You just can’t anticipate what may happen. Do the very most and if it’s not needed, great.”

Project Lifesaver, a nonprofit organization founded in 1999, provides wrist and ankle bands with tracking devices for people of any age with Alzheimer’s, autism, PTSD and other conditions.

The group partners with local law enforcement agencies across the nation to reduce search and rescue times. Average rescue times in Hamilton County are 15 to 20 minutes, according to David McCormick, a Project Lifesaver coordinator.

Local partners in central Indiana include the Pike Township Fire Department, the agency that responded Friday afternoon with dive and rescue teams after Taylor reported finding Minor in the water.

She was not enrolled in Project Lifesaver’s location tracking program, according to relatives.

“We had no idea that they existed,” Taylor said. “It makes you wonder, ‘What if we had done this? What if we had done that? Maybe we could have done something different?'”

Minor beat cancer and defied the odds after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Taylor vowed to channel his grief over her “senseless” drowning death into warning other families about the risks of dementia.

“She was a great inspiration,” he said. 


Hamilton County’s ‘Wellness Unit’ part of nationwide effort to improve mental health among officers

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — An initiative to improve employee well-being at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is among a spate of efforts across the nation to address mental health concerns among officers.

Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush announced the department’s new “Wellness Unit”  — devoted to the physical, mental and spiritual health of its deputies, correctional officers and civilian employees — Friday in a Facebook post.

“Our guys really care about the public,” he said Monday in an interview with News 8. “When you see somebody who’s injured or victimized, it really impacts us… We’re only human.”

The Wellness Unit launched in January with funding approved by county council members and commissioners.

Appointments are held off-site at undisclosed locations to protect the privacy of employees. Supervisors are not briefed on which employees seek counseling or what they discuss during sessions.

Information gathered during counseling sessions will not be used to demote or discipline employees, and will only be disclosed if required by law, including when somebody poses an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The department’s entire staff will receive training related to suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, critical incidents, addiction, mindfulness and officer wellness, the sheriff said.

Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); the suicide rate for police officers is four times higher than the rate for firefighters.

Years of daily exposure to stress, trauma and tragedy can have other devastating consequences if appropriate coping skills are not developed, according to Susan Sherer-Vincent, a licensed clinical social worker, certified alcoholism counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist involved in launching the Wellness Unit.

“Think of the hurricanes that come in, in Florida, and think of the palm trees where they bend,” she explained. “But then, what happens afterwards? They go back up. That’s called resilience. We want our officers to bend, not break.”

Until approximately 3 to 5 years ago, officers were often conditioned to “pull [themselves] up by the bootstraps and go to the next call” instead of addressing personal struggles, Sherer-Vincent said.

Cultivating resiliency can be difficult within a law enforcement culture that equates mental health challenges with “weakness,” she said.

“[Officers] are trained to have the warrior mentality,” Sherer-Vincent told News 8. “Truly, they would have been made fun of [in the past for seeking counseling].”

She compared strong, silent officers with underdeveloped coping skills to California’s famed redwood trees.

“They’re pretty sturdy. But what would happen if you took an ax and hit those every single day, day after day, for years? They would eventually fall,” she said.

Quakenbush credits his wife, church and non-law enforcement friends with providing “a really good support system.”

“But sometimes, you need a professional,” he said, urging employees to “talk through” negative emotions instead of turning to alcohol and other substances for temporary relief.

Several internal cases that resulted in disciplinary action during his year-long tenure as sheriff may have been prevented with wellness-focused intervention, Quakenbush said.

He was unable to comment on personnel matters. 

Sources within the department indicated some of the cases involved employees with substance abuse issues that had escalated over time, possibly as a result of work-related stress that had gone unaddressed. 

“I wouldn’t say that [disciplinary action] was happening often,” Quakenbush told News 8. “But seeing it happen and knowing that we probably could have done something about it made it impactful and something that we wanted to make a priority.”

Hamilton County announced its Wellness Unit days after New York City police officials revealed plans to hire a team of psychologists to combat a spike in officer suicides.

On Feb. 13, Indianapolis police officials said they planned to swear in the department’s first full-time therapy dog by the end of March.

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