MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. - It's been almost a year since 77-year-old Richard Borrack, an Alzheimer's patient from Jensen Beach, yanked his tracking device off his ankle and wandered out of an assisted living facility just before nightfall.
He hasn't been heard from since and his family is certain this could've all been prevented.
"If we had that GPS (tracking) system on him we would've found him by now," said Loretta Borrack, Richard's daughter. "When you lose someone, it's like the world can swallow you whole."
The Martin County Sheriff's Office and Alzheimer's Community Care are looking to prevent such tragedies by introducing a new wristband locator, which prevents its users from removing it themselves. The EmSeeQ, pronounced em-seek, device also uses cellular signals and the 911 system to improve on the current tracking technology of radio frequencies and global positioning.
When an EmSeeQ user goes missing, his or her caregiver is instructed to call 911 and the EmFinders call center. The call center will then activate the locator, which will begin to issue a cellular signal detectable to law enforcement. The device's company claims the signal can locate an individual within yards and under an hour.
EmFinders, a Frisco, Texas-based company, has donated multiple bracelets across the United States, including 14 bracelets to the Martin County Sheriff's Office two months ago. Only one bracelet has been distributed locally. The devices are available free to individuals with financial need and those with Alzheimer's disease, autism or other cognitive disabilities.
The bracelet's $199 price is waived, but users must pay $25 a month to activate the locator service.
The sheriff's office will continue to use its successful Project Lifesavers program, which currently outfits 20 Martin County residents with radio frequency locator bracelets.
The decision to introduce the EmFinders program was based on need, said Martin County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Ryan Grimsdale.
"There were so few of the other bracelets it made sense not to turn down the equipment," Grimsdale said. "This is an increased opportunity to find loved ones."
Alzheimer's Community Care CEO Mary Barnes said the organization is helping pilot the new high-tech program to offer patients and families other alternatives in case of emergencies. She said the new system could help police find lost patients quicker and more efficiently and can ease caregiver anxiety.
"We feel that the patient needs to be found in four to six hours or the risk of finding them alive is diminished," Barnes said. "Having that transmitter on that person's arm gives the family a backup plan."
Alzheimer's Community Care, which serves Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties, has stood by similar locating devices in the past and has come under fire as to whether this technology imposes on a patient's privacy.
In 2007, the organization partnered with VeriChip in a controversial procedure that implanted a radio frequency chip containing medical information, known as RFID, into about 100 patients. Barnes said today fewer than 20 patients actually carry the RFID chip.
"Patients and caregivers would never say these tracking devices impose on privacy," Barnes said. "People who say that they don't know anything about Alzheimer's or what it does to the family. ... This disease changes all the rules."
Katherine Albrecht, a New Hampshire author and privacy expert, has spoken out in the past against Alzheimer's Community Care's support of tracking devices, such as the RFID. But she supports noninvasive devices like the tracking wristbands.
Albrecht's worry is that caregivers and assisted living facilities will rely too heavily on technology and less on human interaction.
"When you have this technology, it will make people less likely to be vigilant and often times makes people lazy, and that would be my concern," Albrecht said. "I think we need to rely more on human touch and staying in contact with them."
Jim Nalley, co-founder of EmFinders, said the device was never created to unknowingly track people; the idea behind it was to give those individuals who find themselves lost a way home.
"We're very cognizant of patients' privacy. People deserve freedom, but on the other hand, they also deserve to be safe," Nalley said.
Nalley said as Baby Boomers continue to age the estimated Alzheimer's population in the United States will more than double in the next 20 years to about 15 million.
According to Alzheimer's Community Care, more than 15,000 people are living with Alzheimer's disease on the Treasure Coast.
Loretta Borrack, who said she would support cellular tracking devices, said she has not stopped looking for her father's familiar face.
"I don't want to see this happen to anyone else," Borrack said. "What we're going through is insane."How to get an EmSeeQ tracking bracelet
Device is available through the Martin County Sheriff's office.
It is offered free to Martin County residents in financial need and
who suffer from Alzheimer's, dementia, autism or other cognitive disabilities.
Users must pay $25 a month to activate the EmFinders service.
The bracelet can also be purchased through the company's website for $199, plus the service charge.
Contact: Martin County Sheriff's Office Community Oriented Policing Unit, 772-220-7013
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