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1/22/04 - Smith County

Device to Track Wandering Alzheimer's Patients

It happens more than 20 times a year in Smith County. Someone with Alzheimer's or other special needs wanders off.. And a team of searchers has to go find the missing person. A search may take hours or even days and still turn up unsuccessful. But soon, a missing person can be located quickly with a simple device.

"This is the receiver and the antenna," Cory Hughston, crime prevention specialist, Victoria County Sheriff's Dept., said.

And the transmitter goes on my wrist. The equipment is part of a new program in Smith County, called "Project Lifesaver." And today is training day. I wandered off to see if Project Lifesaver can track me.

"By listening to the chirp, it's going to tell me which direction the signal's coming from," Hughston said.

"In Northeast Texas, we have about 17,000 Alzheimer's patients," Ginny Ebarb, development coordinator, Alzheimer's Alliance, said. "Sixty percent of those will wander. That's the national average."

I wandered off about 500 yards from the building and hid behind a dirt mound.

"It's a major problem," Ebarb said. "And it's one of the first behaviors that occurs with Alzheimer's, so even in early onset, you could have someone getting lost and wandering."

They found me.

"National average success... We've had over 800 searches nationwide," Hughston said. "All of those searches have ended successfully with no injuries. All of them with a national average of under 30 minutes."

Reassurance, the next time a loved one wanders off. Project Lifesaver will be run by the Smith County Sheriff's Dept. If you're interested in signing up and getting a wrist-band transmitter, call the Alzheimer's Alliance at 903-509-8323.

Julie Tam, reporting.

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