ORLANDO, Fla. — Alzheimer’s disease and autism will face a formidable foe in Orange County: A drone that will track people with the conditions down if they wander away from home or a facility.

A pilot program announced this month will put $75,000 of state money into play to launch the initiative, spearheaded by state Sen. Linda Stewart.

She was joined in the press conference by Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, whose mother-in-law died of Alzheimer’s a few years back.

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He noted that she went missing several times during the later years of her illness, and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office had to devote significant resources to find her.

“This technology will help find people much faster than by foot, by car, even a motorcycle,” said Stewart, who led the charge in Tallahassee to get the program funded. She decided to push for the program after learning that a half-million people with Alzheimer’s were reported missing in Florida last year.

The technology is provided by Project Lifesaver, which will provide tracking devices for those with cognitive disorders. The device can be placed on a person’s foot or ankle. Working with 911, deputies will be able to find the person using a frequency emitted from the device.

The transmitter costs $325, although exceptions can be made for those unable to afford them. The seed money will go to the purchase of a drone and the training required involving two deputies.

“I think it’s a lifesaver there is no way around it,” Stewart said. “Not only that but the desperation that families feel when their loved ones who have autism or Alzheimer’s — they’re not in house, not where they’re supposed to be.

“What do you do then? You panic. What we’ve had to do is call deputies and have them circle around in their cars. With this device, we can find them almost immediately.”

The hope is to extend the program statewide by next year.

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