In the stress of discovering a family member with dementia has wandered off, it can take caretakers hours, even more than a day, to dig up a good, up-to-date photo and description of the missing person to share with police.
Those initial 24 hours are considered by police to be the most crucial in finding a person who has wandered off. It recently took police more than three days to find a 75-year-old man who'd wandered off in Dundas.
That's one part of the impetus for a new collaboration between Hamilton Police and the MedicAlert Foundation. When a person who wears a MedicAlert bracelet goes missing, police will be able to look up a person's photo and details of someone's wandering tendencies in MedicAlert's "Connect Protect" database.
And on the other side, when police encounter a person with dementia, Alzheimer's, autism or other cognitive disorders who wears a MedicAlert bracelet, police will be able to use a unique code on the bracelet to quickly access that person's name, address and caregiver information.
The program will "greatly accelerate the reuniting of lost citizens with their loved ones," said Chief Glenn De Caire.
"When one of our citizens goes missing, we need to equip our officers with the real-time data," De Caire said.
'These people are our neighbours, our loved ones'
Hamilton is the second police force in Canada, behind Durham, to team up with MedicAlert. Police hope the program will help lessen the amount of time it takes to find people who've gone missing.
There have been 1,143 missing persons so far in Hamilton this year, and 55 of those were "wandering" cases of people with conditions like Alzheimer's and dementia, said Const. Kim Walker, the service's missing persons coordinator.
Hamilton Police did three resource-intensive ground searches in 2015 so far, including the Dundas one. There was one ground search in 2014 and two in 2013. All of the people were successfully located in those cases, Walker said.
The program costs $60 per year to register for the bracelet (or necklace), but the MedicAlert Foundation offers free or subsidized registrations for low-income people. The bracelets are not tracking devices.
"These people are our neighbours, our loved ones, people we care about and people we care for," said Robert Ridge, president of MedicAlert Foundation Canada.
Phyllis Fehr worked as a registered nurse in Hamilton for more than 30 years. The 58-year-old has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's herself four years ago and spoke Monday at the central police station in favour of the program. She can get lost in a grocery store, she said.
"Both my mother and grandmother had Alzheimer's, and now, I've been diagnosed with it," Fehr said. "There's a lot of stigma around what we can and cannot do. Initiatives such as this give me peace of mind to still continue doing the things I love – knowing that in the event that I find myself lost or unable to recall specific details… police will have a quick access to information that will help get me home safely," she said.