Alzheimer's Whanganui and the police have teamed up to help make the lives of those living with dementia easier and safer.
They have developed the Wandersearch Tracking System, a system used to search for people living with dementia or autism who have become lost from their place of residence.
The system is simple in design. A person wears a pendant that emits a pulse using a specific frequency which is detected through a receiver and tracking unit held by the police. The pulse strengthens as the tracking unit closes in on the pendant.
The system was introduced just over four years ago, operating fully in Whanganui, Rangitikei and Waimarino.
Community co-ordinator for Alzheimer's Whanganui Maree Cairns said it provided an "insurance policy" for families with members who are living with dementia and other degenerative brain conditions.
"It gives the family peace of mind. Just in case someone wanders off or turns the wrong way and becomes disorientated."
The pendant can be worn as a watch or necklace, with the aerial inside. The pendants can be tracked precisely from 5km away.
Whanganui police Sergeant Colin Wright, who heads the Whanganui Search and Rescue team, said the system was "brilliant".
"It makes our job a hell of a lot easier. Once we get a signal we can hone in on it, as we get closer the signal strengthens allowing us to pinpoint their location. It is very accurate, to the point if you turn full circle from the signal, you will lose it.
"Sometimes people would be found just 300 or 400m away from their homes. They have got disorientated and have sat down because they are lost."
Without the pendant, searches for people can take hours, if not longer, Wright said.
"Now, we usually find people within minutes [with the pendants]. The longest search we have had was just over an hour and a half. Without the pendants, where do you even begin the search?"
About 70,000 people are living with Alzheimer's in New Zealand, with that figure predicted to be about 170,000 by 2050 due to the ageing population.
The Wandersearch system is a precautionary step for families, Cairns said.
"It means they don't have to worry. If someone gets disorientated and gets lost, it is easy for them to be tracked down. We don't want to stop people from walking; it is a great health benefit. The pendant allows people to do so safely.
"A lot of people have them and they never get used, but it provides the families' security and peace."
Cairns recommended getting a pendant early on for a person with dementia.
"If you give it to someone with advanced dementia, it will be foreign to them and they may take it off."
Alzheimer's Whanganui was thankful to the Mazda Foundation and LandSar, who funded the pendants and tracking equipment. There is a six-monthly charge for users for the batteries to be replaced.
Cairns said without help from outside the organisations, the system would not be possible.
"As a charity we don't have the money to fund and supply the pendants, so we are very thankful."
To acquire a pendant, contact Alzheimers Whanganui on 06 345 8833 or email email@example.com