Tracking Alzheimer's Patients

Too often we hear about elderly Alzheimer's or Dementia patients gone missing from their homes without food, water or their medication. Now, a new tool here in the South Valley will help keep wandering Alzheimer's patients safe.

67-year old Consuelo Moreno walks countless laps around her living room couch.

She smiles and laughs a lot.

Consuelo has Alzheimer's a disease which slowly destroys brain cells, causing memory loss and Dementia.

Lucia Moreno, Patient's Daughter: "She would forget things. She would, for example, go to the kitchen and she was going to prepare something for herself to eat and she would leave the stove on."

But Lucia and her family have been hit with another difficulty. For the last three years, Consuelo has started wandering a common occurrence with Alzheimer's patients.

Lucia Moreno: "One time she left and my daughter was the one to tell me. My daughter was four years old. She came and said, "My Grandma she's taking off that way."

Consuelo had walked four blocks away from the house.

At one point, Consuelo was wandering off twice a week. Sometimes she wanders at night while Lucia is sleeping.

Now, they have to keep the doors locked to keep her mother safe.

At Porterville adult day services where Consuelo is cared for during the day an alarm sounds if a Dementia or Alzheimer's patient tries to leave. The care center has had some close calls with wandering patients before, including one time, when an Alzheimer's patient wandered off and was found three hours later 15 miles away.

Tamara Cabeje, Program Director: "When they start wandering they have a destination we just don't know their destination."

Lucia Moreno: "It gets hard sometimes, it's stressing, you know, to think about it. It's scary when she does wander we get really scared when she does go."

Lucia and her family may soon have a new tool to keep Consuelo safe. The Exeter Police Department has just partnered with County Health and Human Services to provide radio frequency tracking for Alzheimer's or Dementia patients who tend to wander.

They call it "operation home safe."

Bill Phillips: "This has a fairly accurate range of two miles. If he's gone three or four hours and may have wandered out of the scope of this escapability then we have a roof mounted antenna that goes onto a vehicle and that also attaches to the box."

Alzheimer's patients like Consuelo would wear a bracelet which has a unique radio frequency code.

If Consuelo wandered off and her family couldn't find her police would punch the code into a transmitter box which could track her down.

Instantly we start getting the chirp that chirp is picking up the frequency that this is emitting.

The Tulare County Sheriff's Office says every year as many as eight people with Dementia or Alzheimer's wander off for hours or even days at a time.

Clifton Bush, Exeter Police Chief: "As our senior population gets larger law enforcement in general is going to encounter more and more problems. When you have a missing person it can eat up countless man hours which translate into dollars."

Bill Phillips: "If the individual is not located within 24 hours 50% of them will suffer serious consequences death or serious injury."

Across the nation this tracking equipment has been used about 1600 times to track a wandering Alzheimer's or Dementia patient.

100% of the time, it has been successful finding a person within 30 minutes.

Lucia Moreno: "In the past I've been able to locate her right away but what happens if she wanders off in the middle of the night and she's lost for 2-3 hours without me knowing. With this bracelet if she goes out I could know."

For Lucia, the bracelet would provide added security. So when Consuelo wanders again her daughter knows she can be found.

Exeter PD has already heard from dozens of families interested in getting one of these bracelets.

It costs $300 dollars and a monthly maintenance fee of $25 dollars but there is help available for families who can't afford it.

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