They may also restore peace of mind to anxious caregivers who worry every time their loved one leaves the house.
Three out of five people suffering Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia have wandering tendencies. When that happens, authorities have to race against the clock to search for them: Statistics say that only 50% of those who get lost and are not found within 24 hours will survive; of those who are found, about 35% require hospitalization from injuries sustained while lost.
Increasingly, electronic tracking devices are providing rescuers with the means to find wandering dementia sufferers much more quickly. In the UK, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health Trust recently started trials on a program that provides dementia patients with pocket GPS units. The devices enable the project team to monitor patients’ movements on a map administered through a secure website.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Wristband Remedy
Using GPS technology on a wide scale reduces the chance of Alzheimer’s patients getting lost while allowing them to regain freedom of movement despite their disease. Relatives wouldn’t have to worry about finding them, since their location can be pinpointed to within a few yards.
In the US, a program called Project Lifesaver has been running since its 1999 inception in Chesapeake, Virginia. Today, 40 states in the US and Canada have agencies participating in the program. Project Lifesaver utilizes a special electronic wristband that regularly transmits a radio signal, which is picked up by special tracking equipment at the local sheriff’s or law enforcement office.
It has been effective. In Ocean County, New Jersey, Project Lifesaver has rescued people less than five minutes after authorities received reports of missing dementia sufferers. Overall, the average time to locate people wearing the Project Lifesaver wristband is 26 minutes. In contrast, the average rescue time for people without a tracking device is 9 hours.
Alzheimer’s Disease: How Project Lifesaver Works
If it’s available, people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia enroll in the Project Lifesaver program in their county and wear the special transmitter. The transmitter comes in a case that looks like a wristwatch and is worn just like one; this minimizes resistance among the elderly to put on the device. The user’s mobility is not limited in any way. Most programs use a Care Trak transmitter, which the family usually purchases for about $275. Maintenance involves a monthly battery change done by the police or a designated organization participating in the program at a cost of about $10 each time.
The caregiver or a family member checks the device before putting it on the participant’s wrist. The device should be strapped on securely and its signal should be strong. Whenever the dementia sufferer goes out of the house, the device transmits signals to a special receiver at the monitoring station. Trained deputies use a mobile locator with directional antennas that detect signals within a one-mile radius on the ground or, if necessary, up to seven miles by air. The cost for the search-and-rescue equipment needed by law enforcement authorities can run up to $10,000, and participating agencies may also have to pay for the administrative costs of the program.
More than 20,000 people in the US currently use the special wristbands. The Project Lifesaver program has been so successful that some county sheriffs are considering its expansion to include young children with autism, who also have a tendency to wander off without notice. Those who wish to enroll a relative in a Project Lifesaver program should find out if their county has one by calling their sheriff’s office.