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Alzheimer’s group urges law to track developmentally disabled

Andrew Falzon, Rep. Thomas Suozzi, Dr. Paula Lester,

Andrew Falzon, Rep. Thomas Suozzi, Dr. Paula Lester, State Trooper Kristen Erario and Alzheimer's Foundation of America President and CEO Charles J. Fuschillo Jr. at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

The president of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and others urged the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday to pass a bill that would make federal funding available for tracking devices to help local law enforcement agencies monitor the movements of children with developmental disabilities and adults with dementia.

Charles Fuschillo Jr., who is also the foundation’s chief executive, said 6 in 10 adults with Alzheimer’s wander at some point during their lifetime. Currently, he said, about 50,000 Long Islanders are living with the disease.

The bill would make $10 million in grants available for the next five years to local police departments and other law enforcement agencies nationwide, Fuschillo said at a news conference in Mineola. Some of the money would go toward buying GPS-tracking devices and making them available to families whose loved ones have dementia or developmental disabilities such as autism, he said.

“We want to make sure that law enforcement officials here have every available tool to help bring those missing persons back safely, and reunite them with their loved ones as quickly as possible,” he said.

The bill, known as Kevin and Avonte’s Law after two autistic boys who died after wandering away from their supervised surroundings, passed the Senate. Some House Republicans who oppose it worried that it could make it easier for the government to track citizens who are not at risk.

Critics feared that allowing GPS-tracking devices to be used for purposes other than locating missing persons could restrict the autonomy of the disabled.

Wandering, generally speaking, is when a person leaves a safe environment to one that is potentially unsafe, said Dr. Paula Lester, a geriatrician at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola.

She said a study showed that if people who wander are not found within 24 hours of being reported missing, the fatality rate is 25 percent. If they are not found within 72 hours, she said, the fatality rate jumps to 40 percent.

“Having a GPS-tracking device is a wonderful mechanism to find them quickly,” she said.

Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who supports the legislation, said the program would be voluntary. It’s up to caregivers to decide whether they want their relatives to use the tracking devices.

Some of his colleagues, Suozzi said, adopted a strict position.

“They don’t want any kind of tracking of people,” he said at the news conference.