It’s a nightmare scenario: The door of your home is discovered open, you suddenly realize a loved one is gone, and there’s no hint of their whereabouts.
For the families of people with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, down syndrome, or brain injury, it’s a constant worry.
Now there’s help.
Turning over a silver metal instrument in his hands — it looks like a crude crossbow made from old antenna parts — Amherst police officer Jason Nahm showed us Thursday how the device can track “wanderers” who go missing.
Purchased by the Amherst Lions Club as part of Project Lifesaver, the instrument is a receiver that traces wrist and ankle bracelets, emitting pings to direct police in the direction of the missing person.
Bracelets can be tracked up to a mile on the ground or many miles through the air.
Nahm said the first patient signed up just before our talk. There are four more bracelets for interested families to claim.
The first step in that process is talking to the Lions; they can be reached at 440-396-5431 or firstname.lastname@example.org. From there, a doctor’s recommendation is needed.
If approved, the client will need to wear the bracelet all the time and a spouse or other family member must test the device daily and keep a watch sheet. The batteries last about a month, so expect frequent visits from police to keep the bracelet powered.
Amherst police are trained to help people with wandering-related conditions. They also got eight hours of Project Lifesaver training.
The nonprofit program was founded in 1999 and was based on trials in North Carolina, where searches for missing wanderers took more than nine hours on average.
Today, more than 1,500 agencies in 50 states have signed on, including Lorain police, county sheriff’s deputies, and Westlake police.
Most who wander are found within a few miles from home, and search times have been reduced from hours and days to minutes, according to Project Lifesaver.
Recovery times for clients average 30 minutes, which is 95 percent less time than standard operations.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.