San Diego Co. buys Alzheimer's tracking devices

Posted at 12:18 PM, Apr 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-26 15:18:48-04
SAN DIEGO -- San Diego County Supervisors are helping Alzheimer’s San Diego launch a pilot program designed to keep people with Alzheimer’s or dementia safe.
On Tuesday, they approved a $10,000 grant to pay for 100 GPS tracking devices. The “Wandering Prevention Program” will give the devices away to families, along with some accessories and three months of tracking service. The families also won’t have to pay for activation and network fees.
“Many people tell us they don’t get the GPS service because of the upfront cost of the device,” said Mary Ball with Alzheimer’s San Diego. “This has eliminated that barrier, and we’re going to get those devices in needed families hands.”
The devices, called Splash GPS devices, are made by a local San Diego company called Great Call. They use satellite GPS and cell phone signals. Family members will have access to an online portal and smartphone apps that allow them to monitor the daily activity of the user, to keep track of where they are and where they’ve been. 
The Splash devices are the size of a small pager and can be clipped to belts, or worn as watches or necklaces. They also have a call button if someone gets lost and needs help.
“There’s the ability to reach someone, via voice, 24 hours a day, which can be very helpful to that person who’s confused and has memory loss,” Ball said.
More than 60,000 people in San Diego County have some form of Alzheimer’s or dementia, and that number is expected to double by 2030. Alzheimer’s San Diego says 60 percent of them will wander off or get lost at some point. The devices will help law enforcement find them, and save money and time on searches.
The issue came to the forefront in October of 2014, when Sally Estabrook wandered away from a campsite in Pinzanita, near Julian. Hundreds of people helped search for her. The 76-year-old Alzheimer’s patient was found dead nearly 2 months later. Ball says it’s a tragedy that could have been avoided with a device like this.
“This is something as a community, as a county, we have to do. We’ve got to keep people with memory loss safe.”
Anyone interested in getting a device should contact Alzheimer’s San Diego at 858-492-4400. Families who have had previous incidents of wandering will get priority for the pilot program.