PORTLAND (AP)- Crews continued their search Tuesday for a 79-year-old man who has been missing for days in eastern Washington County.

The search began Friday and is one of four recent searches involving elderly people lost in the woods, said Sgt. Pat Dorian of the Maine Warden Service. Dorian said he believes lost elderly people are increasing.

“Certainly in the last five to seven years, we have seen a significant increase in the volume of searches that we do that are elderly folks,” he said. “Some are suffering from either Alzheimer’s or dementia or some are challenged in some way because of their age.”

Officials planned to continue looking in Washington County for Lewis Gardner, whose blue station wagon was found Saturday stuck on a nearly impassable dead-end logging road in Whiting.

The body of Gardner’s companion, 74-year-old Mona Cole, was found in the car. She died from lack of food and water, Dorian said.

The same day searchers found Gardner’s car, authorities in Medway found the body of a retired mill worker who had disappeared after going into the woods to pick mushrooms.

Peter Misiura Sr., 84, apparently became disoriented and got entangled in thick brush only two-thirds of a mile from his red truck.

The other two searches were successful: One elderly man was found by hunters near Clayton Lake on Saturday, and a couple was found near Dixfield on Sunday.

Mark Latti, a spokesman for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said that from July 1, 2002 to June 31, 2003, there were 259 searches for lost people in Maine. He said he does not know how many involved older people.

But he said that Maine has an aging population and he suspects the number of older people who wardens search for is increasing. There are no statistics available regarding the ages of people lost in the woods.

Maria Llorente, a geriatric psychiatrist at the University of Miami, said when older people get lost they face problems younger people do not.

“You have less muscle mass as you age, and remember, the muscles are the part of your body that help to keep you warm,” she said. Older people also become dehydrated because of medications more easily, she said.

AP-ES-10-05-04 1415EDT

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