SAN DIEGO -- Families with loved ones who suffer from memory loss have a new way to keep them safe.
Lauren Baltzell-Adams is grateful for the opportunity to test a new device as part of a pilot program with the county, Alzheimer’s San Diego and local company, Great Call.
Baltzell-Adams knows there is a very real possibility her mother-in-law Joan Adams will wander away one day. Doctors diagnosed Joan with Alzheimer's a year and a half ago.
“I've lost her a couple of times in big stores. I've found her within about 15 minutes,” said Baltzell-Adams.
Her family also had a close call years ago with her grandfather who disappeared in Florida. Police found him three hours away wandering the highway.
“It's scary. It's a reminder,” added Baltzell-Adams.
It’s a reminder that it doesn't always end well.
Two years ago, 75-year-old Sally Estabrook disappeared while on a camping trip in Julian with her husband. Crews searched for weeks. Two months later, someone found her dead about a half a mile from where she disappeared.
"It's horrible. I can only imagine what families go through when that happens,” said Baltzell-Adams.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is seeing an increase in the number of people with memory loss who’ve disappeared from home or any other safe place. In the last couple of weeks, crews searched for three people.
"For every minute that goes by, that person has made another turn and gone another mile. So, we want the call early,” said Lt. Michael Knobbe.
A device called the Splash, made by Great Call, can help families and search crews find their missing loved ones faster.
Lauren was one of the first in San Diego to receive the device thanks to the County Board of Supervisors, which approved a $10,000 proposal to pay for the pilot program.
“Six out of 10 will wander. There are over 62,000 in San Diego County who have Alzheimer’s, so that is a great risk of thousands of people wandering,” Alzheimer’s San Diego President Mary Ball.
The device can be connected to a lanyard and worn around the neck, placed around the wrist, attached to a belt loop or put in a bag or purse.
It has a GPS and a button for users to press if they need help in an emergency.
“In the case where we know she's missing but she doesn't know to push the button, we can activate it from our end to track down where she's at,” said son Ed Adams.
Alzheimer's San Diego will give away 100 free devices in all in this first wave.
It's hoping to get more money to pay for more in the future. People can still sign up at www.alzsd.org
For more information on the "Splash" or other similar devices, visit www.greatcall.com