The Upper Arlington Commission on Aging is inaugurating a pilot program to help quickly locate people with who suffer from confusion or dementia when they wander away, putting their safety at risk.

The Upper Arlington Commission on Aging is inaugurating a pilot program to help quickly locate people with who suffer from confusion or dementia when they wander away, putting their safety at risk.

"We've had several instances in Upper Arlington in the past year where we've had individuals wander away," said Amy Schossler, coordinator of the commission. "In those situations, the city dispatches every available police officer, every available firefighter, plus resources from the sheriff's office.

"In some cases it has been dead of winter, middle of the night and people have been gone for three hours," Schossler said. "Physically, it's not a good situation for them to be out in the elements that long."

Under the program, called Project Lifesaver, participants will wear a watch-sized bracelet that transmits a radio signal. Then, when the person is discovered to be missing, police will be able to use special radio receivers to track down the radio signal.

"The training was extensive," Schossler said. "We included both police and fire division representatives. It was three days where we were taught about the equipment and how it was used, but we were also able to go out into the field and experiment with it, to understand exactly how we can use it to find lost individuals.

"It's pretty comical to watch actually," Schossler said. "It's a radio antenna that's handheld. People were coming out of their homes looking at us, wondering what we were doing. You're holding a box to listen for the frequency, then you're holding up an antenna to actually track the frequency. As you get closer it's getting louder and louder and you're triangulating to the source."

Mari Dannhauer, program director of the Alzheimer's Association, central Ohio chapter, said Alzheimer's victims wander for many reasons, including the ordinary experience of boredom and lack of stimulation.

"With dementia, wandering is the biggest issue," Dannhauer said. "Sometimes people have a circadian rhythm disorder, where their days and nights are mixed up, so they come downstairs in the middle of the night thinking it's morning time.

"Sometimes boredom can cause someone to wander," she said. "Really the big one, I think, is lack of activity, so they get bored and walk away."

High risk situations include any change in environment, such as a vacation or a trip to a store or an environment with large crowds.

"We always recommend adult day care programs, so they can get that activity and be in a safe environment during the day, particularly if the caregiver is working," Dannhauer said.

Schossler estimated there were about 500 people with Alzheimer's in Upper Arlington, and said about half of a given Alzheimer's population has sufficient capability to be at risk of wandering.

There are 10 slots available in Project Lifesaver's pilot program, and while several families had expressed interest, no one was enrolled as of early this week.

There is no cost to participants. The cost of the bracelets is about $350, which is covered by donations from a number of community groups, including Northwest Kiwanis, Upper Arlington Community Foundation, Hazelbaker Foundation, the Senior Advisory Council, Upper Arlington Rotary, Tri-Village Sertoma Club, and Abbington of Arlington, along with individual donors.

The city has two receiver kits, each including a car mounted receiver and a hand held receiver, at a cost of $2,500 each. To date about $13,000 has been raised for the project through the commission's efforts.

Dannhauer said it can be difficult to relate to Alzheimer's patients, including persuading them to participate.

"The (Project Lifesaver radio) bracelet is more bulky, so it's uncomfortable for the person to wear," Dannhauer said. "A lot of times they don't understand why they need to wear the bracelet. A lot of times we'll tell the person it's a gift from a grandchild, and then they're more willing to wear the bracelet."

For more information about Project Lifesaver, call Amy Schossler at the Upper Arlington Commission on Aging, 583-5326.