13 Jun 2019

As more elderly wander off, LandSAR suggests tracking devices

8:17 pm on 13 June 2019

As New Zealand's population continues to age, Land Search and Rescue is seeing a spike in the number of searches for people with cognitive impairment who have wandered off.

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Photo: 123RF

LandSAR chief executive Carl McOnie said 23 percent of search and rescue operations dealt with by police last year involved people with such conditions, many of them elderly.

"It is growing as we see a change in the demographics of New Zealand due to the ageing population. We see more and more age-related dementia being a major contributor."

At the same time, there has been a small decline in the number of operations for people lost in the wilderness as people have better access to communication and GPS devices.

Mr McOnie has asked the government to provide more funding for tracking devices, worn as accessories such as necklaces or watches, for people at high-risk of getting lost.

He said they greatly increased the chances of finding someone who had wandered off.

"It's like tracking a kiwi, if you like. If someone goes missing there's a radio wave that lets us know and we pick those people up, usually in a few hours.

"If they don't have pendants they can wander - literally - for miles and miles and get themselves in real trouble and in some instances will pass away before they can find them."

There are currently less than 1000 pendants being worn by people at risk of wandering off.