Colorado LifeTrak: Protecting those who wander

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By Ted Mink

Zach is a 6-year-old boy from north Jeffco whose autism makes him prone to wander. A few years ago, Zach walked away from his backyard and through the neighborhood. A neighbor found him and called police, who helped reunite him with his panicked family.

Zach's family worried that if Zach were to wander away again, he might be lost for hours, or get hurt. Maybe next time he wouldn't encounter a Good Samaritan. Despite their renewed vigilance, they wanted extra reassurance that Zach could be found if he walked away from the house, a store or a park.

In 2007, Zach's family enrolled him in Colorado LifeTrak, a program run by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and several other local law enforcement agencies.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has offered the Colorado LifeTrak program to Jefferson County residents since 2005. Formerly called Project Lifesaver, Colorado LifeTrak is designed for people of any age who have medical conditions that may cause them to wander. The project is a partnership between law enforcement and the families of those suffering from Alzheimer's disease and related disorders, and other conditions such as Down Syndrome and autism.

How Colorado LifeTrak works

• A family member or caregiver of an Alzheimer's or autistic patient contacts the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office to enroll in Colorado LifeTrak.

• The participant is given a personalized wristband that emits a tracking signal 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

• Caregivers notify the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office when a participant is missing.

• A search-and-rescue team responds to the call and uses a mobile locator to find the participant.

The program has proven to be successful in locating lost participants. Deputies have found lost participants in wooded areas, at suburban bus stops and even downtown Denver businesses.

Participation in the program can reduce search times from hours and days to minutes. The program can provide some peace of mind for caregivers, knowing that this technology will help return their loved ones faster — whether their loved ones have walked away from school, a daycare program or a senior center.

Colorado LifeTrak is not a substitute for responsible supervision; but for some situations, it is an appropriate "safety net" in case of emergency.

Today, more than 100 people are enrolled in our agency's program. They range in age from toddlers to the elderly.

Why is Colorado LifeTrak important?

Approximately 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's and related disorders — 60,000 of which live in Colorado. Of these, around 60 percent will wander during the course of their disease.

Many wander at night, when basic search options are difficult. They can also become paranoid and actually hide to avoid rescue.

This technology can locate any wanderer during the day or night, in any weather — even if he/she is not cooperating in his/her own rescue effort.

The Colorado LifeTrak program is growing rapidly in Colorado. More and more police departments and sheriff's offices are beginning to use the technology and enroll citizens in their areas. The program drastically reduces the time, manpower and taxpayer dollars needed in search-and-rescue efforts for persons prone to wander.

If you have a family member with a medical condition that makes him/her prone to wander, and would like more information on Colorado LifeTrak, call the office of Emergency Management at the sheriff's office at 303-271-4900.