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WedMD.com says Alzheimer’s is the most common type of the dozen or so forms of dementia. It’s a brain condition that causes problems with thinking and memory. Although most types of dementia get worse over time, there are drugs that can help with behavior changes and other symptoms. Statistically, six in ten people with dementia will wander, often from rest homes and other facilities where they live. A person with Alzheimer’s may not remember his or her name or address, and can become disoriented, even in familiar places. Wandering among people with dementia is dangerous, but there are strategies and services to help prevent it.

Establishments for the elderly and disabled usually make regular checks on their patients. Unfortunately, exit doors must be kept unlocked from the inside because they are fire exits. Many cases of lost persons are reported locally each year and many more probably go unreported. Recognizing that the problem is expected to grow as our population ages, the Alzheimer’s Family Organization offers a registry for patients who suffer from memory disorders and have a tendency to wander off. 

Project Lifesaver provides rapid response to save lives and reduce potential injury for adults and children who wander because of cognitive disorders. Seniors who are enrolled in Project Lifesaver are given personal transmitters that they wear. In addition to the location devices, Project Lifesaver works with public safety agencies to train them on the risks associated with wandering. Locally, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office and the Pilot Club of Fayetteville have teamed up to help families locate wanderers. 

This past September the Pilot Club presented Sheriff Moose Butler with a check for $1,000 to help fund Project Lifesaver here. This program is supported exclusively with donations, said Sheriff’s Sgt. Sean Swain. Project Lifesaver makes electronic tracking bracelets available to those in need. The Sheriff’s Community Policing Unit is able to support the needs of as many as 15 people at a time who meet the qualifications. The tracking devices are loaned to those in need as they become available. 

The bracelets have tiny battery operated transmitters which emit tracking signals. They look like and are the size of a wristwatch. Then, when a caregiver notifies the sheriff’s office that a family member is missing, a specially trained search and rescue team is dispatched to the area where the wanderer was last seen. Rescue times have literally been reduced from hours and days, to just minutes. Team members have been trained to “know how to approach the wanderer, gain his trust and put the individual at ease for the trip home,” says Swain. Information is available at the sheriff’s office by calling 323-1500.


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