The national Alzheimer's Association states one in three seniors die with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, adding up to more deaths than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

"For Alaskans, we want to be proactive. We want to assess the situation in our loved ones who might be dealing with dementia as soon as possible," said Debbie Chulick, an education specialist with Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska. "We don't want to wait until there is a crisis." 

Earlier this week, a potential tragedy was avoided when a hiker found 62-year-old Herb Spencer unresponsive along a trail near Hilltop Ski area. Spencer has dementia and was missing for six days. 

"There's lots of different reasons why a person will wander," Chulick said. "Sometimes they're hungry, sometimes they're cold, sometimes they're bored. Sometimes it's something they've done their whole life."

Advocates like Chulick say it's important for family members to have the conversation as early as possible about what they can do to reduce the risk of their loved one wandering off.

Spencer was fitted with a Project Lifesaver device — a wrist band or ankle bracelet that allows the person to be tracked if they wander off.

This device picks up signals from Project Livesaver transmitters worn by people with Alzheimer's and dementia.

In Southcentral Alaska, the bracelets are usually set up through Anchorage Search Team, Inc. The team's assistant director, Dean Cox, said the national average of recovering someone wearing the tracking device is around a half hour. The reason it took six days to find Spencer is because he cut off his transmitter.

Cox said the search team works with Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska, which has grants for people who can't afford the $1,300–$1,500 transmitters. 

"We have several clients who don't pay anything," Cox said. "Because we know this saves lives."

Chulick with the resource center said they are able to provide small grants for people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or related dementia through a collaboration with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. The program provides up to $2,500 per person depending on need for anything not covered by another funding source.

Trackers like the Project LifeSaver device can also be used for the safety of children with autism or other disabilities.

More resources for helping loved ones dealing with Alzheimer's or dementia are available on the Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska website

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