Missing opportunity: New app promises help in tracking down lost-memory sufferers

Sacramento area law enforcement agencies use social media, GPS bracelets to find missing people

This is an extended version of a story that ran in the December 22, 2016, issue.

An 80-year-old man briefly went missing on November 29 before being reunited with his family, according to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department’s Twitter feed. Two weeks earlier, the Sacramento Police Department returned a 72-year-old man to Sutter Memorial Hospital, which the dementia-sufferer had wandered away from on November 15, police tweeted.

Both agencies have used social media to post “silver alerts” to find lost folks experiencing memory loss. Now, there’s an app for that.

The Missing Senior Network was recently unveiled by Home Instead Senior Care, to help caregivers locate missing loved ones diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Located at www.missingseniornetwork.com, the app is free to the public.

“It’s a free tool that would allow caregivers to alert a network of friends, family and businesses via text or email—using social media platforms to get the word out,” said Blair Sepeta, director of home care services for the company.

To set up the app, caregivers are asked to enter information about their senior and the contact information of the network of people who might interact with them. If their loved one goes missing, they can log into the app and press a button to alert the network.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, three out of five people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia will wander. And if an individual with memory loss is not found after 24 hours, there is only a 50 percent chance they will be found alive or without serious injury. One in five families whose loved ones wander will contact police, the Missing Senior Network states.

Sepeta said that wandering is often thought of as seniors setting off on foot and becoming lost in their own neighborhoods, but that it can also occur when an individual gets in his or her car to drive to an old workplace or a familiar hairstylist.

Home Instead also offers tips to prevent wandering and avoid caregiver burnout.

Those with memory loss often wander because they feel lost or abandoned. Caregivers should use communication that responds to their loved ones’ desires, sense of safety and belonging, according to helpforalzheimersfamilies.com. If individuals have unmet needs like being unable to find the bathroom, they are likely to wander.

The cities of Citrus Heights and Elk Grove are part of Project Lifesaver, a nationwide program that offers GPS bracelets to residents with special needs who are at risk for wandering. Police officers can use radio waves to track the bracelets when individuals become lost.

The bracelets are offered to Elk Grove and Citrus Heights residents on a first-come, first-served basis. Caregivers must test the bracelet’s battery and check its condition each day and maintain a monthly log sheet provided by Project Lifesaver. The program has a 100 percent success rate, according to the city of Elk Grove’s website.