WAYNE COUNTY, Ohio (WJW) – For many families with loved ones suffering from conditions like dementia, the greatest fear is that they will wander away from home and find themselves in harm’s way.

In an effort to solve the problem, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office is turning to technology that has a proven track record of quickly finding missing people.

The technology is offered by a nonprofit organization called Project Lifesaver, based in Virginia. 

“It’s a radio transmitter that the person wears around their wrist or around their ankle, and every second, it emits a tone that is not able to be heard by the human ear, but it’s a radio frequency chirp and we use a special receiver to hone in on the device. As we get closer to the individual, that frequency on the receiver gets stronger,” said Captain Doug Hunter.

The small radio transmitter worn by the people it aims to protect has a one-time cost of $325, but it takes the guess work out of searching.

“Usually you’re just basically wandering around in hopes of stumbling across the missing person. This takes it out of the hope factor and puts the technology into play,” said Captain Hunter. “It does not encroach on the person’s privacy. It only comes into play when the caregiver contacts us and states that the at-risk person has gone missing. At that point, we will respond to the scene, use the device to track the person.”

The family of 84-year-old Jerry Zierau, of Wooster, was the first to sign up for Project Lifesaver in Wayne County.

Jerry has wandered away from home several times since being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“Of course we had to call 911. Obviously it was an ordeal. It was in the evening and dark and we were really scared for what might happen… he doesn’t know he’s sneaky, but he is sneaky and this just is going to be a huge help.” said his daughter, Christel McGee.

In some cases, those who wander away are not dressed for the weather. That’s why Project Lifesaver’s average recovery time of 30 minutes is so important.

Nearly 4,000 people have been found by various law enforcement agencies using the technology since Project Lifesaver was created in 1999. The quick response by searchers is the key. 

“Studies have shown that an Alzheimer’s patient that’s missing for more than 24 hours, the chance of them being recovered alive is less than 50%,” said Captain Hunter.

Project Lifesaver is providing peace of mind for the Zierau’s relatives.

“It’s a blessing for our family. It’s a wonderful thing. We’re really grateful,” said McGee. 

Captain Hunter says the sheriff’s office does not want the cost of the technology to be a barrier for any families, so deputies are now looking for community groups and individual donors who would be willing to help pay for the lifesaving transmitters.