When someone with dementia wanders off into the community, everyone is on high alert and the only goal is to get them home safely.
The provincial government, through the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility, will spend almost $600,000 on the Finding Your Way program, which is designed to help people living with dementia and Alzheimer's in the community.
This year's funding will support additional training and education delivered through the Alzheimer Society's 29 locations across Ontario.
"Safety issues are a real concern for people living with dementia and their families," Debbie Islam, chief executive officer with the Alzheimer Society of Simcoe County, said at a news conference Friday afternoon at the local organization's Anne Street offices.
"Our focus has been on ensuring our clients are aware of these risks and understand the importance of planning ahead, including the development of a safety plan," Islam added.
Started in 2013, Finding Your Way is a provincewide program that helps people with dementia, as well as their families and caregivers, in instances of wandering and the dangers of going missing, she said.
The program also aims to increase awareness of safety risks for people with dementia, while also building supportive communities where people can live well.
Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP and Attorney General Doug Downey said the Alzheimer Society comes with a strong reputation.
"It's great when government can partner with organizations that have credibility and a track record and they have the ability to deliver the services," Downey said. "We won't worry about what happens with the money when we hand it over, because you make the most of it. I really appreciate that.
"It's a great organization and you work tirelessly for vulnerabe seniors in our communities," he added.
The funding announced today, which Islam called "a valuable investment," will also allow the Alzheimer Society of Simcoe County's education team to host several public information sessions about dementia and how people can help those living with it, while also remaining safe and active in the community.
There are more than 240,000 people in Ontario (and more than 9,000 in Simcoe County) living with dementia, "and 60 per cent of those are at risk of going missing at some point during the progression of their condition," Islam added.
"Three out of five, that's a high percentage. That's significant," said Downey.
"Incidents like these, as we know, can be extremely dangerous for the individual, and heart-wrenching and traumatizing for the families," he added. "It's important that we have those supports in place to educate people."
The program will also provide practical training to police officers on how to communicate with people living with dementia, and how to interact with the family of a missing person during an incident.
There will also be a rapid response group, including police and people with lived experience across the province, and an online information centre with tools and strategies for emergency responders to encounter people with dementia.
Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin said it's also a matter of caring for the aging population, "those people that we should give our high respect to that built the foundations of the country we live in today."
Khanjin also noted Finding Your Way operates in 12 different languages.
As of July 31, Finding Your Way has reached more than one million people through seminars, online programs and resource guides. For more information on the program, visit www.findingyourwayontario.ca.