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Keeping Track of Alzheimer's Patients

Bracelet transmitters can help locate those who have wandered away

SUNDAY, May 6 (HealthScout) -- As people with Alzheimer's disease lose their ability to remember places, directions or even who they are, it's not uncommon for them to wander and get lost. In worst cases, they aren't found alive.

But the use of radio-tracking bracelets is now giving caregivers for Alzheimer's patients a chance to rest a little easier.

The bracelets, which are the size of a watch and are worn around the wrist, use technology that has long been used to track and locate endangered species and stolen motor vehicles.

They're now being offered by several police agencies around the country, and the Connecticut State Police has become the first state agency to do so.

Each bracelet costs about $250 and they were purchased through a $10,000 donation to the state police from The Hartford Financial Services Group.

"We believe this program will make a significant difference for those who have cognitive impairment and for the families who care for them," Michael Hughes, vice president of the Hartford, says in a press statement.

According to Brian Hance, associate director of the Alzheimer's Association's Safe Return Program, wandering is a significant risk for those with the mind-wasting disease.

"Most statistics show that nearly 60 percent of the four million Americans with Alzheimer's disease may wander off and get lost, and some may do it repeatedly," Hance says.

"You can't predict when it can happen, so anyone with the disease is at risk of wandering at some time," he adds.

Hance says the factors that can trigger wandering range from being in a noisy crowd to wanting to go "home" -- which may be a place the person lived in years earlier.

And their confused mental state makes finding Alzheimer's patients even harder.

"They tend to wander, as one researcher said, until they get stuck. So you often have people wandering until they come in contact with a fence or a wooded area or thick bushes," Hance says.

"And if you call their name, they possibly won't answer because they're afraid. So you may be right by them and you can't see them," he adds.

Sgt. J. Paul Vance, a spokesman for the Connecticut State Police, says response to the announcement of the bracelets' availability has been tremendous.

"After our announcement we got more than 80 inquiries. But since we only started the program with an initial 30 bracelets, we're looking for other corporations or people who are willing to partner with us and purchase the bracelets as a donation, so we could service as many people as possible."

Vance adds that the bracelets could benefit more than Alzheimer's patients.

"We think they can also be of use to people with brain injuries, autistic children or anyone who has the possibility to wander and is in need of care."

What To Do

Visit the Alzheimer's Association for more information on research and treatment of the disease.

Or read more about Alzheimer's disease in these HealthScout stories.

SOURCES: Interviews with Brian Hance, associate director, Alzheimer's Association's Safe Return Program, Chicago; Sgt. J. Paul Vance, commanding officer, Connecticut State Police; Connecticut State Police press release
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