Any caregiver who has a loved one with Alzheimer's disease or dementia is aware of the risk of that person wandering away. In fact, wandering is one of the most expensive and life-threatening situations in the United States. There are over 5.5 million people with Alzheimer's in the U.S., and it is estimated that 60% of those individuals (3.3 million) will wander during the progression of their disease, many of them repeatedly.

Public safety workers and emergency response teams like police, EMTs and firemen recognize this growing problem. Project Lifesaver International, a nonprofit organization that works hand-in-hand with trained public safety agencies to find wanderers.

These public safety agencies sign up to become part of the Project Lifesaver network and are provided with tracking equipment that they can use to locate wanderers who participate in the program. Caregivers have to sign up for the program with their local police department. They receive a small tracking device that their loved one wears around their wrist or ankle. The device emits an individual tracking signal. If the person goes missing, the caregiver notifies 911 or calls Project Lifesaver directly, and trained emergency teams take over.

The personal transmitter tracks the person's location and the direction in which they are moving to help emergency personnel find them as quickly as possible. Radio Frequency Technology has a 1 mile tracking radius on the ground and up to 7 miles in the air.

Currently, 1,500 agencies in 50 states participate in the program—police departments, sheriffs, fire departments, public safety departments and other emergency responders. Some communities offer the service for free, while others charge a small monthly fee.

"Without effective procedures and equipment, searches can involve multiple agencies, hundreds of officers, countless man hours and thousands of dollars. More importantly, because time is of the essence, every minute lost increases the risk of a tragic outcome for the patient, their caregivers and their families," says Christine M. Platz, Director of Media and Communications for Project Lifesaver.

The national statistics on wanderers are alarming: up to half of wanderers who are not found in 24 hours will suffer a serious injury or death. Using Project Lifesaver, most wanderers are found within a few miles from home, and search times have been reduced from days to hours, and in some cases, minutes. The average recovery time is 30 minutes, which is 95% less time than standard operations.

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Our aging loved ones want to remain home as long as possible. The familiarity and security of their home and their independence are challenged almost daily. Abilities diminish naturally over the years, which results in the need for supervision or assistance. This is particularly true for patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. Making this technology available to families is a true breakthrough. The ability to locate a lost loved one when they have eloped has not only saved time and money but also the lives of those we love so dearly.

It is important to note that, even if a local police station or other agency is a member of Project Lifesaver, caregivers must sign up with that agency in order to get the tracking device they need. Costs to enroll a loved one in Project Lifesaver vary by local area. Some areas participate in grant funding and programs and may be able to provide wristbands at discounted rates or at no charge to the family.

While no one wants to relinquish control over their day to day routines or significant decisions, as our loved ones age, it sometimes becomes necessary. The unification of technology and organizations that are concerned for our elders has made options available for families that in some ways seem remarkable. A significantly reduced response time alone can provide a family with priceless piece of mind.

To find out or enroll in Project Lifesaver, contact your local police department and ask if they participate. If you do not know if Project Lifesaver is available in your area, call Project Lifesaver International Headquarters at (757) 546-5502. For more information, visit the Project Lifesaver website.