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Equipment helps find Alzheimer's, other patients who wander away

POSTED: July 3, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA /The Times

Chief Gerald Lanich explains how the new tracking device works Thursday at the Flowery Branch Police Department. The device allows officers to find missing people who suffer from Alzheimer's and other brain-related diseases or injuries. The device could cut back on hours, even days of searching for a missing individual.

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FLOWERY BRANCH — Authorities searched for three hours before they found the autistic child, the grandson of a Gainesville-Hall County Pilot Club member, who had gone missing.

The nightmarish experience two years ago led the club to seek out a way for emergency agencies to quickly find people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other brain-related injuries, said president Linda Buffington.

The group’s work led them to Project Lifesaver, an effort sponsored by Pilot International that provides equipment — a wristband for those prone to get lost and a tracking system for public-safety agencies — to aid in such searches.

The Pilot Club has donated the equipment to Flowery Branch Police Department and plans to present equipment to the Hall County Sheriff’s Office at the Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting on July 24, Buffington said.

The organization sponsored training for both departments June 2-4 at the sheriff’s office training center on Allen Creek Road, she said.

Flowery Branch Chief Gerald Lanich said his department is thankful for the equipment.

"All of us have experienced people who have wandered away from home," he said. "Law enforcement agencies quite often get involved with people who have medical problems that affect their memory or something of that nature.

"It becomes quite an involved situation where officers respond to an area and we begin the search. This (equipment) is going to give us an immediate lead on which way we need to go. Rather than start canvassing an area, we can concentrate on the direction that we get the signal from."

Lanich said that he hoped the system would be operational within the next 30 days.

According to Project Lifesaver International’s Web site, projectlifesaver.org, "In over 1,000 searches, there have been no reported serious injuries or deaths. Recovery times average less than 30 minutes."

Buffington said that statistics show that 50 percent of Alzheimer’s patients wander from home and other places and 72 percent of those wander repeatedly.

Lanich said, "Through the years of dealing with this type of situation, you would be totally amazed the distance people can travel."

With Project Lifesaver, when caregivers notify authorities that a person is missing, a rescue team travels to the area where the person was last seen and starts searching with the tracking system. The wristband emits a tracking signal.

Buffington said she believes in the project’s urgent need.

"We will be putting out brochures in doctor’s offices and all over town so people will know about it," Buffington said.

Families interested in the service can contact a Pilot Club member, Flowery Branch police or the sheriff’s office.

The cost to users is $300 for the bracelet and $15 for a new battery that is installed every month. The tracking equipment that authorities use costs about $5,000, Buffington said.



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