Phil: Elderly and Mentally Ill

Phil Arabadjis was an elderly man from Queens who had a history of schizophrenia and showed early signs of Alzheimer’s disease when he first wandered off in December. He was found within 24 hours. This time, he went missing for two months.


It was cold and rainy outside of O’Shea-Hoey Funeral Home in Astoria on Monday, April 20. Incoming visitors slowly filled up a row of mahogany chairs. Inside, in the room reserved for the wake, a family portrait and a picture of 63-year-old Philip Arabadjis sat on top of his light blue coffin. The words “Beloved Father & Husband” were on a bouquet of white flowers. In an anteroom, the Arabadjis family cried.

Philip Arabadjis left his apartment in Astoria around 8 p.m. on Feb. 12. Surveillance cameras at his apartment complex showed him walking outside and into the street in his bare feet. Nightly temperatures that week were below freezing.

Arabadjis had a history of schizophrenia and diabetes and had been showing early signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia when he first wandered off in December 2014. He was found within 24 hours. This time, he went missing for two months.

The New York Police Department case report stated: “He was last seen leaving his apartment complex with a denim jacket, black sweat pants, and no shoes. He suffers from Schizophrenia, Diabetes, COPD, and shows signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia. He has no ID on him and will not be familiar with his name or where he lives. He is very lost and confused.”

Reports from the government and nonprofit associations say that 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, and 60 to 70 percent of people with the disease wander away from home at least once.

Most people with Alzheimer’s who go missing are typically found soon after wandering, but it is not uncommon for them to end up in more serious situations, said Jed Levine, executive vice president and director of programs and services at the national nonprofit Alzheimer’s Association.

“Close to 47 percent of people who go missing who are cognitively impaired, if not found in 24 hours, they’re either never found or found seriously injured,” Levine said.

The baby boom generation is aging and people are living longer. We alone dealt with over 300 cases of missing people. It is a growing problem.”

– Jed Levine

Executive Vice President and Director of Programs & Services, Alzheimer’s Association

Levine said that the number of wandering adults with Alzheimer’s is increasing because the number of people with the disease is increasing.

“The baby boom generation is aging and people are living longer,” he said. “We alone dealt with over 300 cases of missing people. It is a growing problem.”

Reported vulnerable adult cases have gone up each year since 2012 for ages 50 – 99

Source: NYS Missing Persons Clearinghouse

Credit: Mackenzie Burke

Reports in 2012

Reports in 2013

Reports in 2014

Heather Arabadjis, Philip’s 33-year-old daughter, told Pix 11 News that her dad most likely wouldn’t remember his name, let alone know that his family was searching for him. Heather, along with a team of family, friends and volunteers, searched hospitals and homeless shelters across the five boroughs. She worked closely with Detective Velez of New York City’s Missing Persons Squad to find him and created the Facebook page “FindPhil” to document her daily search activities.

NYC Search and Rescue, a nonprofit organization, created missing posters for Heather and her family. She continuously posted missing posters around Astoria, Long Island City, and Brooklyn and offered a $10,000 reward to anyone that knew his whereabouts.

The search for Arabadjis expanded across the city. Heather teamed up with the family of missing 20-year-old Brian Gewirtz at Union Square on Sunday, March 1. A number of volunteers helped pass out flyers and visited hospitals and homeless shelters around the city.

On March 21, Heather Arabadjis and her uncle, George Arabadjis, joined the Gewirtz family at a press conference in Brooklyn. Also attending were Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Councilman Alan Maisel,

Council Member Chaim Deutsch and Danny Oquendo, brother of Avonte Oquendo, an autistic 14-year-old whose 2013 disappearance triggered a citywide search before he was found dead.

Heather updated her “FindPhil” community page on April 4 about the passing of Brian Gewirtz, who was found at Brooklyn’s Marine Park Golf Course the afternoon before.

“His family and I have coordinated our volunteers to pass information out for both of our family members. Both of our families have been connected because we are both going through this ordeal. I was praying for his safe return. I would’ve really loved to meet him. Brian Gerwitz is in Heaven and will never be lost again. God bless him and his family. I will still be here to support his family. #findbriangerwitz,” she wrote.

On April 11, Heather posted an update about the investigation and her mother Iris’ efforts to find Arabadjis.

“We are going to start putting up flyers again, but waiting for the NYPD flyers to put in public places as those are more likely to stay on polls and bus stops,” she wrote. “I feel horrible for my mom.  She is desperate to find her husband and feels like no one is helping. There are other steps we are taking to find my father but I don’t really like to discuss them because they are grim.”


A family searches for their 20-year-old son with autism.


Brian went missing on Feb. 17, a day when three inches of snow blanketed the streets and temperatures had dropped below freezing. His family spent weeks searching for him. Read more.

That same day, a body was found. Four days later, medical examiners confirmed the identity and declared Philip Arabadjis’ official date of death: April 11.

At the wake, family, friends and a few people who had been following the case talked quietly among themselves. A few prayed. Heather Arabadjis tried to talk to everyone she knew, including friends from college. She passed around pictures of her father and thanked everyone.

Missing person reports skyrocketed over a three-year period for people ages 70 – 79 

Source: NYS Missing Persons Clearinghouse

Credit: Mackenzie Burke

Reports in 2012

Reports in 2013

Reports in 2014

Protecting the Vulnerable

When Arabadjis was reported missing, the police categorized him as a “vulnerable adult.”

The vulnerable adult category, established by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services in 2011, includes anyone from the age of 18 or older with a cognitive disorder. More people from the ages of 50 to 99 have disappeared than any other age group. Of the 147 vulnerable adult missing persons cases last year, 104 involved people ages 50 – 99.

The Alzheimer’s Association says 6 in 10 people with dementia will wander off at least once, and about half of those who wander face serious injury or death if not found within 24 hours.

“It is just a terribly frightening experience when somebody who is often older is out there on the streets of New York City,” said Levine.

Once dementia reaches an advanced stage, some people begin to suffer from severe hallucinations and breaks with reality, said Antonietta Lafortezza, who is a social worker at an adult day program called AHS Caring Communities of Queens.

Lafortezza said that wandering behavior is typically triggered by thoughts or memories related to some sort of task or objective they have recalled and feel as if they must accomplish.

Once the task becomes imperative to the person, the wandering will likely become more frequent, leading to an increased risk for the person and for the family, she said.

There are simple measures or home remedies that some New York adult day care facilities recommend, and alert programs hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association to help families and caregivers monitor wandering and other complications with the illness.

“Under no circumstances can you lock them inside,” Lafortezza said. “You’re going to want to navigate around do that. You can put a bell on their door or by their bed and that would alert someone that they’re getting up or leaving or going somewhere.”

One simple strategy is redirection, Lafortezza said.

“If you notice that they’re heading toward the door or somewhere else, you’ll want to redirect them and get them to engage in a different activity,” Lafortezza said. “Maybe get them to listen to music or tell you a story to kind of distract them of that thought of walking away.”


2014 Missing Vulnerable Adult Alerts by Age

Source: NYS Missing Persons Clearinghouse Credit: Mackenzie Burke

ages 60 - 69

ages 80 - 89

ages 50 - 59

ages 70 - 79

ages 90 - 99

Aside from simply keeping a closer eye and actively working to distract them from thoughts of wandering, methods such as providing bracelets with basic personal contact information can help if a person does wander off and go missing.

The Alzheimer’s Association developed a 24-hour emergency alert program for people with dementia called the MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program.

The program works to quickly support caregivers after an episode of wandering or any emergency. Once a caregiver reports an emergency, the local chapter of the Association and local law enforcement is notified immediately. Bracelets with contact information and details about the person’s specific symptoms are also provided to aid in the event of another disappearance.

Levine said around 22,000 New York City residents are enrolled in the program, which coordinates with both the NYPD and the Missing Persons Unit.

Behavioral problems or discomfort can also spur wandering if the person doesn’t know how to communicate an underlying pain or any discomfort, authorities say. The person can become restless and uneasy as they try to find a solution to what is bothering them, which can lead to wandering and a potential disappearance.

“We know that 60 to 70 percent of people with the disease wander, and it’s always a serious situation,” Levine said.

Photos: (Above) A missing poster for Phil Arabadjis. By Mia Garchitorena. (Below) A “rest in peace” poster made for Phil Arabadjis from the “FindPhil” Facebook page.

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