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Program tracks wandering Alzheimer's, autism patients

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A pilot project to help find Alzheimer's disease victims and autistic individuals who wander was expected to clear a legislative committee at the State Capitol on Monday. The idea is to set up a pilot tracking program through the University of Florida.

Columbia, Suwanee, Hamilton and Baker counties are slated to be the pilot counties. All are located in Northeast Florida, but if the pilot is successful, the aim is to expand it statewide sometime after 2017.

In this decade, Florida's population is expected to grow 11 percent. But the number of residents over the age of 65 is expected to jump a whopping 26 percent. Legislation would set up a $100,000 pilot program in four Northeast Florida counties to electronically track Alzheimer's patients and those with autism who wander.

"Thirty-four thousand people who have Alzheimer's or another type of dementia will wander away from their caregiver in the span of a year," said Jessica Duncan, with Alzheimer's Project.

A number of counties already participate in the Project Lifesaver Program. In the State Capitol, the Sheriff's Office operates the tracking devices.

"If you don't have this, you're going to send as much manpower as you can to the area, looking on every street, every block, every house, where with this, we just send two to three deputies," Deputy Sheriff Nancy Burns said.

News4Jax decided to put the tracker to a test.

Reporter Mike Vasilinda only traveled about 200 yards, which gave tracker Laurie Allie an instant signal. The closer she got, the louder the tracker beeped.

"The average search time is between 22 and 30 minutes, internationally, for the entire program," said Allie, who is with the Leon County Sheriff's Office.

Car-mounted devices are accurate to about a mile. But devices mounted in a helicopter can find someone 5 to 7 miles away.