A wristband device that emits a radio beacon could help save the lives of Alzheimer’s disease sufferers who sometimes wander off into the woods, according to the Schoharie County Office for the Aging, which is working to make it available to county residents.
Aided with a $10,000 startup donation from the county Senior Citizens Council, the Office for the Aging is planning to obtain the devices and training from Project Lifesaver International, a Virginia nonprofit group that markets the systems.
“We had a situation in Cobleskill a couple of years ago where a woman wandered off and froze to death,” said Carol Coltrain, director of the agency.
A similar incident involving an elderly man in the Oneonta area prompted Otsego County to begin using the Project Lifesaver system in 2006, Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin said.
With 15 users in his county, “We have not had an actual activation yet,” Devlin said Tuesday.
The wristband is not a satellite-based GPS device and does not provide the wearer’s precise location.
It is similar to the devices that researchers use in radio collars to track wildlife.
Using receivers and antennas, several trained staff cross-reference the beeping radio signal and close in on it, Devlin said.
“I believe the first time we do use it, it will be a great tool,” Devlin said. “We aren’t hoping that day will come any time soon, but if it does, we’re ready for it.”
The Schoharie County Sheriff’s Department is also supportive of the plan, said Undersheriff William Slater.
“Once the program is in operation, we will be participating in it,” Slater said.
“It’s really a very good thing for peace of mind for the caregiver,” said Otsego County Office for the Aging Director Frances Wright.
“For someone who wanders off, this gives them a way to find them,” she said.
Depending on terrain, the radio reception range is from about one to 10 miles, according to regional Alzheimer’s Association staff member Ann Thayer, who is coordinating the effort. The association’s Northeastern New York Chapter covers 17 counties out of offices in Albany and Cooperstown.
The wristbands cost users $280 each, plus a $10 monthly fee for the required battery replacement and monthly testing, Thayer said.
Income-based aid is available for people who can’t afford to purchase the devices.
No direct county funds are involved, Coltrain said.
With the startup money available, Coltrain is developing a list of people who might be interested in obtaining the wristbands once the sheriff’s department staff is trained in the system.
Anyone interested in participating may call the Schoharie County Office for the Aging at 295-2001.
Thayer, who counsels people regularly in Schoharie, Delaware and Otsego counties, may be contacted through the Schoharie OFA or her Alzheimer’s Association office in Cooperstown at (607) 547-1650.
The locators are also available for people with other forms of dementia, autism or Down syndrome, who also sometimes wander into unfamiliar territory and get lost.
“The unit does not replace the need for supervision,” Thayer cautioned. “It does not notify us that someone is missing,” so users must have a caregiver to call authorities as soon as someone is found to be missing.
Otsego is the only county in eastern or central New York using the system, but Delaware County is also working on it in addition to Schoharie, according to Thayer, who works with all three counties.
“We’re just waiting for the training,” said Thayer.
Most of the startup costs involve training authorities to use the equipment to track missing people. Project Lifesaver staff come from the Chesapeake, Va., company to initially train local departments, Thayer said.