Program to quickly find lost dementia patients

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 | 4:46 p.m. CDT

PLATTE CITY — Platte County is preparing to launch a program that authorities hope will help them more quickly locate mentally impaired people who go missing.

Project Lifesaver will provide monitoring devices similar to a hospital bracelet to people with Alzheimer's, dementia, autism and Down syndrome. The sheriff's department will then use specific radio frequencies to find people who walk away from their homes or caregivers, The Kansas City Star reported.

The transmitter has a range of one to three miles. A hand-held antenna device used by deputies makes an audible chirp, which becomes louder the closer it gets to the missing person.

"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 peace of mind."

Platte County Sheriff's Office supervisors trained on how to use the devices Tuesday and will train others before the program begins later this spring. Similar programs are already in place in Raytown, Blue Springs, Westwood and Douglas County.

Michelle Niedens, director of programs, education and public policy for the Alzheimer's Association-Heart of America Chapter, said statistics indicate about 67 percent of the nearly 25,000 people in the Kansas City area with Alzheimer's disease will wander away at least once and about 27 percent of those episodes are reported to the police. Families often spend hours looking for the person, whose chances of survival diminish with each passing hour.

About 900 families in Platte County have a member with one of the conditions, said Platte County Sheriff's Capt. Erik Holland.

"Using this would significantly cut down the amount of time and resources needed to locate the person," Holland said. "There are a variety of factors that could come into play, but this is an important tool in the search effort."

The bracelet and transmitter will cost $400 the first year with an 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, Macken said.

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