2 Suffolk programs will help Alzheimer's sufferers

Following the disappearance of a Floral Park man with Alzheimer's who was discovered two days later in a Queens hospital, Suffolk officials are promoting two programs they say can help quickly locate people who wander away. "This was not a special case," Alzheimer's Association Long Island executive director Mary Ann Malack-Ragona said of Pascal D'Amico. D'Amico, 83, did not return from a walk June 4; a family member located him Saturday in an emergency room after days of frantic searching. D'Amico had identification and contact phone numbers on him, but apparently no one had gotten in touch with his family. "This is happening all the time in the county . . . and these programs are absolutely necessary," Malack-Ragona said. Suffolk County's new Silver Alert program - a sort of local Amber Alert for people with cognitive disabilities - allows family members to register a loved one with the police department and provide a detailed physical description, as well as some medical history. Participants receive free a silver-colored bracelet with a police phone number and their registration number. Once alerted that a person is missing, police can access a database and transmit a name and description to patrol cars, precincts, hospitals and other agencies. Highway information signs also can spread the message quickly. While already implemented in several other states and counties, the Suffolk program is the first of its kind in New York. A similar bill is expected to be considered by the Nassau County Legislature this summer, Malack-Ragona said. "Here in Suffolk County, we have an aging population that, just by virtue of its growing number, will need that type of care and supervision," said county Legis. Steven Stern, who sponsored the Silver Alert bill. About 67 percent of those with Alzheimer's - a degenerative disease that affects 5.3 million Americans - will wander away from home or a family member at some point, according to disease experts. The problem is also common among those with Parkinson's and autism. In a separate program, called Project Lifesave, run by the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department, participants can purchase a device to be worn around the wrist or ankle. The transmitter, which resembles a plastic wristwatch, sends an inaudible radio "chirp" at 1-second intervals. If a person wearing the device is missing, deputies can respond with portable monitors that zero in on the signal within about a half-mile. More devices also can be used to blanket a larger area. Although fewer than 20 people in Suffolk have made the $300 purchase since the program began last year, the department has so far received two Lifesaver alerts: On Sunday, deputies found a 79-year-old woman with Alzheimer's in Hauppauge in 17 minutes. In May, deputies located a 9-year-old girl with autism in 23 minutes.

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