ST. CLOUD -- An app used by local law enforcement officers has the potential to help seniors with dementia stay in their homes longer.

"Memory Loss and Public Safety" is the topic of Thursday's ACT on Alzheimer's program. The once-monthly info session, held at the Whitney Senior Center, covers a variety of topics on living with memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer's.

St. Cloud Police Sergeant Tad Hoeschen says this month, officers will be on hand to talk about Vitals, a mobile app that stores important information about vulnerable people and shares it with law enforcement. Information loaded into the app can include a person's nicknames, emergency contact information, triggers, typical behaviors, or detailed instructions for working with them in a crisis situation.

An officer is alerted when the Vitals app is activated and within 80 feet of the person, says Hoeschen.

"We just encountered a gentleman not too long ago who suffers from dementia," Hoeschen explained. "His information includes, 'I get confused; here's what happens when I get confused; here's what I may look like.' All that stuff may be in there to help officers relate to them as good as we can."

Laura Hood, Whitney's Director of Aging Services, says ACT on Alzheimer's is an essential program, as one in three seniors age 85 and older suffers from some form of dementia.

"We've got a lot of people over 80 in this community," Hood said. "They're vibrant, and healthy and they're moving around. But, that risk factor increases at that age, and it can be very problematic when you're trying to navigate everyday life."

Hood says the topic of Alzheimer's and public safety relates to more than just the work of law enforcement officers.

"How can we as neighbors be more supportive?" said Hood. "For instance, I should be aware of the fact that my next-door neighbor has memory loss. And, his wife may be running out for groceries, and I should be keeping an eye out and notice that he’s now walking down the street in his stocking feet.”

Along with police officers, ACT will have experts on hand to discuss how to handle the sensitive topic of safe driving for seniors.

"At what point do we make the decision to give up that driver’s license?" asked Hood. "What does that conversation look like? Maybe it’s okay to just drive to the grocery store or church. It’s a very difficult thing.”

Hood says the overall purpose of ACT month over month is to help seniors with memory loss issues remain as independent as possible - for as long as possible.

"It's where you're going to be the most comfortable," Hood said. "It's the most economical place for you to be, and it's more than likely where your support system is. That's the whole initiative of ACT on Alzheimer's."

ACT on Alzheimer's is Thursday, March 5 from 9:30-11:30 a.m. It's free and open to seniors, family members, caregivers and any interested community members. For more information, call 320-255-7245.

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