The Largo Police Department is rolling out new technology that will make it easier to search for Alzheimer's sufferers who are prone to wandering.
Using what is basically a handheld radio antenna, Largo police walked through Highlands Park on Wednesday, training to locate seniors that are wearing a specially designed bracelet. The SafetyNet bands put out a signal that officers can triangulate during a search and rescue situation.
Joel Quattlebaum, the department's senior services officer, says the technology can make search and rescue efforts more effective.
"The SafetyNet program is really foundational in the sense that it, even if they aren't in your line of vision, you can locate their radio frequency," Quattlebaum said.
Police spent more than 750 hours responding to missing persons calls in the last 18 months, many of which were for seniors with cognitive impairment. They can become confused when outside of their homes or decide to escape the supervision of their families or caregivers.
Getting lost can quickly turn into a life or death situation in the Florida heat, with some seniors showing signs of dehydration after being lost for only a couple hours.
As the officer who works most directly with Largo's seniors, Quattlebaum said these situations are pretty common.
"One of the most memorable cases is an instance where an elderly gentleman had gone on his normal walk and didn't return in the normal time frame," he said. "We were able to locate him. Unfortunately, he was in a ditch and had fallen off the roadway."
Largo officers are training alongside the Pinellas and Hillsborough County Sherriff's Offices and Bellair Police, who have already started using the monitoring system.
Although each SafetyNet bracelet costs about $500, a grant from the Pinellas Community Foundation will pay for ten of them to be used immediately. More are being made available with the support of a Largo nursing home operator.
Leah Slavensky, the director of community impact for the foundation, said the new technology can be a big help to the people who are taking care of Pinellas County's aging population.
"Some live by themselves, some live with a single caregiver and you can't keep your eyes on a person 24 hours a day," Slavensky said.
Family members and caregivers interested in getting a bracelet should contact the Largo Police Department at 727-586-7351.