Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, 4th District, recently marked the first anniversary of the L.A. Found program by visiting Alex Vargas, a man diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, who is one of 12 people who have been found safely through the program during its inaugural year.
Through L.A. Found, Los Angeles County is distributing wristbands with trackers to individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia and autism so that they can be located if they wander away.
Wandering is a common problem associated with dementia, Alzheimer’s and autism, Hahn said. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 60% of people with dementia will wander away, and a study by the Interactive Autism Network found that 49% of children with autism will engage in wandering behavior. While most individuals are found, wandering cases sometimes end in tragedy, such as a case involving Nancy Paulikas, a woman with Alzheimer’s who wandered away from family at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2016 and whose body was found in a wilderness area in the Santa Monica Mountains in 2018.
Hahn launched L.A. Found in September 2018. The program uses voluntarily-worn, trackable bracelets provided by the county to individuals with Alzheimer’s, autism, dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment. Each bracelet corresponds with a unique radio frequency. When a person wearing a bracelet goes missing, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Mental Evaluation Team can use a handheld receiver or receiver mounted on a helicopter to track the person’s location.
“I launched L.A. Found because I knew that we could find people, give families and caretakers some peace of mind and ultimately save lives,” Hahn added. “One year since its launch, [and] we have been able to reunite 12 missing people with their families.”
Approximately 360 people are enrolled in L.A. Found. The most recent person located through the program was Vargas, who is 75 and suffers from Alzheimer’s. On Aug. 11, he wandered away from a home where he and his wife, Rose, were staying in Long Beach. The sheriff’s department was able to activate his trackable bracelet and locate him a short time later.
“Realizing your husband with Alzheimer’s is missing from your home in the middle of the night was a terrifying experience for Rose,” Hahn said. “But I am so grateful that through the L.A. Found program we were able to find Alex quickly and reunite him with his wife. This program works.”
On the first anniversary of launching L.A. Found, Hahn visited Vargas and his wife with Kirk Moody, Paulikas’ husband. They were accompanied by the two sheriff’s department search and rescue deputies who located Vargas the night he went missing.
“The L.A. Found Program has given our family piece of mind in knowing that someone will be there to help my husband should he need it,” Rose Vargas said. “It is difficult and honestly impossible to be attentive to a person 24/7. This is and has been our safety net. I helped find my husband when he wandered. We are forever grateful to all the individuals that were instrumental in developing this program.”
“L.A. Found is proving to be a tremendous benefit to at-risk adults and their caregivers in L.A. County,” Moody said. “Supervisor Hahn and the board are to be commended for getting this program up and running in such a short time. We look forward to increasing the awareness of L.A. Found in the public’s eye through additional interested entities – outside of county government – so that many more people can take advantage of it.”
The L.A. Found program is open to residents countywide.
“To date, the entire LASD Mental Evaluation Team (34 field teams), LASD helicopter crews and three department search and rescue teams have been trained in the use of locator equipment for Project Lifesaver – the technology used to locate missing persons who are participating in the L.A. Found program in L.A. County,” said Lt. John Gannon, with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “LASD responds to help find missing persons in any of the 88 cities in the county when called upon 24 hours daily. Team members have had remarkable results in locating critical missing persons who were truly at risk due to wandering. We are certain several of our located patients may have otherwise suffered harm without the use of L.A. Found wristbands to find them. Two were in remote areas where they would not have otherwise been seen and at least one was lying down out of view, so traditional searches might have missed them. We highly support L.A. Found in the memory of Nancy Paulikas and the hope that no other family ever have to suffer like her husband Kirk. Our personnel have been inspired by Kirk and the leadership of supervisor Hahn to bring this program to L.A. County, where it’s truly making a difference and saving lives.”
For information, visit lafound.lacounty.gov.
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