Platte County is adopting technology to find lost people with dementia

03/25/2014 6:45 PM

03/25/2014 10:02 PM

The first few hours after a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia is reported missing are precious, experts say.

The chances of that person returning home safely diminishes with each passing hour, and those missing more than 24 hours have about a 50 percent survival rate.

A program being launched by the Platte County Sheriff’s Office called Project Lifesaver is expected to help in that effort. Project Lifesaver is an electronic tracking program that uses specific radio frequencies to locate missing persons who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, autism or Down syndrome.

The monitoring device, which resembles a hospital bracelet, is worn on the wrist or ankle. It transmits a radio frequency that allows law enforcement to find people who walk away from their homes.

“Already these individuals are burdened with this terrible disease,” said Kathy Macken, executive director of the Platte County Senior Fund. “Their caregivers work to keep them safe and healthy. This device will give them that little piece of mind.”

The effort in Platte County is expected to begin this spring. Other local law enforcement agencies already offering the service include Raytown, Blue Springs, Westwood and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

“It adds a lot of security for folks,” said Michelle Niedens, director of programs, education and public policy for the Alzheimer’s Association-Heart of America Chapter. “If someone wanders, it would be an effective intervention.”

There are about 25,000 people in the Kansas City area with Alzheimer’s disease, Niedens said. Statistically, 67 percent of individuals with Alzheimer’s will have at least one episode of wandering. Around 27 percent of such episodes are reported to the police.

The typical scenario is someone whose family will search for hours to find the person, she said.

On Tuesday, Platte County Sheriff’s Office supervisors were trained on how to use the devices. They will train others.

“Using this would significantly cut down the amount of time and resources needed to locate the person,” said Capt. Erik Holland with the Platte County Sheriff’s Office. “There are a variety of factors that could come into play, but this is an important tool in the search effort.”

Those in the program will receive a bracelet and transmitter, which cost $400 for the first year. The annual subscription fee is $300. The Platte County Senior Fund will provide financial assistance to families and caregivers who enroll in the program in the first year, said Macken.

Patients wear a bracelet connected to a transmitter that operates on a special frequency. The transmitter has a range of one to three miles. A deputy uses a hand-held antenna device that makes an audible “chirp.”

The sound gets louder as the deputy gets closer to the missing person. Similar technology also can be used on top of patrol cars.

Holland said the sheriff’s office is working with school districts, the Platte County Board of Services and Platte County Senior Fund, which provide services to adults and children whose conditions make them prone to wander.

“Over the years we have seen an increase in people who wander, and in researching the issue, we determined there were 900 families in Platte County that have people in their family who have a condition,” he said.

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