New program could help in locate missing Alzheimer’s patients

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KANSAS CITY NORTH, Mo. -- Technology is being used to help law enforcement better track older people during a silver alert, when someone has wandered away from home. Experts say time is critical when a person with Alzheimer's disease or dementia is missing. Now, a new program promises to help law enforcement better track those who are prone to wandering away.

Project Lifesaver is an electronic tracking program that uses bracelets with radio transmitters to help law enforcement officers find missing people with medical conditions. The battery-operated bracelets are about the size of a silver dollar and can be worn on your wrist or ankle. Each transmits a clicking noise on a specific FM frequency that can be tracked by deputies who are learning how to use this special gear.
It's the same sort of radio signal broadcast by an airliner's black box, like the one they're trying to find from the Malaysian jet in the Indian Ocean. Only, in this case, deputies have to be between one and three miles from a missing senior to receive the signal.
The Platte County Sheriff estimates that there about 900 families in the county who have a loved one with Alzheimer's, dementia, autism or Down's syndrome that could benefit from the program.

"Anytime somebody wanders, time is critical," said Capt. Erik Holland of the Platte County Sheriff's office. "The longer a person is gone, the greater the likelihood they are going to be injured or even deceased by the time they are located. For families and law enforcement, getting people safe is our first priority. We want to do that as quickly as possible."

Holland says someone with Alzheimer's or dementia only has about a 50 perecent survival rate once they've been missing for more than 24 hours, so any tool that helps searchers zero in on a missing person can be lifesaver.

Holland says he can remember at least three cases in the last year where there have been large scale searches for someone who's wandered away. Those searches can be costly in terms of manpower and resources, so this technology has the potential to save money for law enforcement agencies. The tracking equipment costs about $5,000.

Platte County plans to roll out its program in the next few months. It will cost families who want to sign up $400 to get a bracelet and transmitter, and then $300 a year after the first year. Blue Springs, Raytown, Westwood and Douglas County, Kansas, also plan to offer the same program to their citizens.

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