CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – More than 70 percent of dementia patients live at home and it’s estimated that six in 10 will wander away at least once.

The Alzheimer’s Association is working to make sure first responders know the best ways to help when they answer these calls.

“It catches families and people by surprise to see the person they know and love wandering,” explained Denise Young with the Alzheimer’s Association. It’s a crisis for many families. Young works to connect first responders with resources to best help dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. The most common calls involving someone with dementia, are for what looks like a drunk driver, shoplifting, and wandering.

“Working with first responders we educate them on how to recognize the disease when they see it and how to communicate and respond to the person living with the disease,” Young said.

Young says another program her team works closely with is Project Lifesaver.

“You get that person and take them back home. You don’t know how many times I’ve cried and how I’ve told them God put their loved one back home,” said Sandy Austin, who volunteers with the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office. Austin, a former home health nurse, takes pride in her work.

The search and rescue program is designed for at-risk individuals who are prone to wandering. The individual is enrolled in the program and wears a device making it easy for those with Project Lifesaver, like Austin, to find those who are missing.

Austin is passionate about her work and connecting those in need with resources. She wants to help anyone who will listen.

Austin will be leading the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office team during the upcoming Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Unifour. It’s taking place on Saturday, October 28th. Check-in opens at 9 a.m. with the opening ceremony and walk starting at 10 a.m. There are 17 walks across North Carolina this fall.

More than six million Americans are living with the disease. That includes more than 180,000 people in North Carolina.