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County may look into wristband tracking for missing seniors after dementia patient found wandering in the cold Tuesday

A resident with dementia wandered away from this care facility Tuesday night and was found six hours later suffering from early stage hypothermia. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)

A platoon of emergency agencies launched a massive ground and air search late Tuesday night for a dementia patient found wandering in the cold in rural Hubbard County.

The six-hour search came to a successful end early Wednesday morning.

The man, who'd wandered away from an assisted living facility, was located using a state helicopter and thermal imager.

Temperatures were hovering around 40 degrees when the man went missing from Care-Age Country Home, off Highway 34 three miles east of Park Rapids.

"The likelihood of the subject surviving the night because of low temperatures would have been slim," said Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Matt Langer in a news release.

"I would not like to know what happened if he'd stayed out there all night because he was basically lying down, immobile and was pretty cold by the time our guys got to him; he couldn't move a whole lot," Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer said. "He was tensing up with the weather. It got down to about 34 that night."

The facility has 21 residents, said Care-Age administrator Lynn Niemeyer, who owns the home with her husband Chris.

"In 21 years, we've never had someone wander away," she said. "We're not a locked facility so residents can come and go as they wish."

Niemeyer said the staff noticed the man, identified as 64-year-old Gary Hanson, missing just after the evening meal had been served, around 6:15 p.m., and immediately began looking for him, calling in authorities just before 9 p.m. when they couldn't find him.

Hanson was located one-half mile south of the residence in a wooded area shortly after midnight.

He was taken to St. Joseph's Area Health Services in Park Rapids for treatment of possible hypothermia. The Sheriff's Department said he was wearing sweatpants and a knit shirt when he left the facility.

"We went to see him this morning (Wednesday) and he was doing fine," Niemeyer said. "We're thankful it worked out well."

She said the man's family will likely make other arrangements for him in a more secured facility.

Hanson suffered from Parkinson's and some dementia, Niemeyer said. The reason he wandered away was not known.

"He could have been upset or confused," she said.

Care-Age staffers keep a watchful eye on the residents who have some form of dementia, she said. Of the 21 residents, five or six fit into that category.

The facility is located in a rustic wooded setting south of the highway.

Homer was quick to say the facility was not negligent; people afflicted with dementia wander away from homes and staffed facilities.

Wednesday, when the story hit the Internet. Homer said he was contacted by a Twin Cities company that sells wristbands that help law enforcement locate missing persons.

Homer said the department will invite the company up to make a presentation.

He said the wristbands might be geared more toward home use, but it might be worth listening to the sales pitch. The bracelets have a monitoring system through local law enforcement dispatch centers, he said.

Numerous agencies responded to join the search efforts for Hanson, including the Patrol, Hubbard County Sheriff's Department, and mounted posse, ATV and K-9 units, Hubbard First Responders, a State Patrol helicopter unit, Park Rapids Police Department and North Memorial Ambulance.

"It's one of those things," Homer said. "You have to make a call as to what you need for personnel, equipment, but I was never so happy to hear that they located him. Just a good job done by all."

Homer said usually a helicopter comes from Brainerd but it was not operational Tuesday night so he made the call to get one from St. Paul, a chopper the Patrol referred to as an "airship."

"To here it took two hours but they were only in the air a half hour once they got here so it was huge," Homer said of the decision. The thermal imaging program functioned, locating Hanson.

Although Hubbard County has some night vision binoculars, they are "ground only," Homer said.

"They do work and you can see providing the conditions are right," he added, "but the disadvantage is this fellow was lying down and there was all this shrub around him so you could only see him from the top. The guys on the ground would not have been able to see him."

Homer said the search crews told him Hanson was coherent when he was found and said he'd been lying in the bush for three hours before being located. He was taken by ATV to a waiting ambulance.