Dementia presents many challenges, but new tracking programs can help solve one of them.

Having a family member with Alzheimer’s disease means watching that person slowly fade away. It means wondering how to pay the escalating costs of care in the late stages of the disease. It means making financial and legal decisions for the family member, even well after the family member is able to state their wishes.

And it means worrying that, given a moment alone, the family member will wander off, eventually forgetting where they are and how to get home.

The issues with diagnosis, care and costs related to Alzheimer’s disease are as difficult to solve as they are troubling. But wandering can be mitigated, simply and inexpensively, through the use of programs that are now being used in some Maine communities, and should be considered elsewhere.

One of these programs, known as The Wanderers Database, is coming to Waterville, Winslow, Oakland and Clinton. Now being used by police and sheriff’s departments in Waldo and Knox counties, the program gives police access to information about local residents whose family members believe may in danger of wandering. If that person goes missing, police can instantly call up and disseminate photographs and personal and medical information, allowing for a faster, more effective search.

The Wanderers Database is not the only help available. In June, police in Auburn and Ogunquit both began using the national Project Lifesaver program, in which the person at risk for wandering wears a bracelet that emits a radio signal.


There are GPS-based systems, as well, such as Comfort Zone, a program through the Alzheimer’s Association that allows families and caregivers to locate wanderers using a wearable device and a Web-based mapping program. And there are more low-tech options, such as the MedicAlert SafeReturn program, which helps track people down using an ID bracelet connected to a national hotline.

But The Wanderers Database, and others like it, puts the information directly in the hands of police, who are in the best position to conduct a search and spread the word to nearby communities.

And the programs are not just suitable for people with dementia. They can all be used for children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, who are also prone to wander, usually to secluded areas.

In fact, the Autism Society of Maine suggests that parents who have a child with autism preemptively provide emergency responders with specific information about how to approach their child if he or she goes missing. That is the same information that is provided to police through The Wanderers Database, except in the latter case it is electronic, and thus easy to access and distribute to responders in the field during an emergency.

Alzheimer’s disease must be reckoned with in the coming years, in Maine as much as anywhere else. The number of cases of Alzheimer’s in Maine, the nation’s oldest state, is expected to increase by almost 45 percent in the next six years alone.

That comes with many long-term challenges, from attracting enough caregivers to figuring out how to pay for the astronomic Medicare costs associated with the disease.

But with the tracking programs so readily available, the danger, and the anguish, presented by wandering can be abated now.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: