Project Lifesaver article was contributed by Jan Higman, Director of Dementia Support Northwest and was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Vibrant Senior Options Resource Guide. | Posted Fall 2019
It’s 4 am. Sue has woken up to find that her husband, Frank, is missing from the home. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Frank has dementia.
Without Project Lifesaver
Dementia is a devastating disease that can impact a person in many different ways. One of these impacts is cognitive disorientation that causes one to wander. This can happen at any time, day or night. Often, people who wander are at a stage where the ability to communicate can be an issue. In this fictional but realistic story, as Frank seeks an exit he will become disoriented and lost. He won’t be able to figure out the way back to the house. This can happen in his yard or several blocks away, or even a mile or more away from home. As family and friends are looking for him, Frank most likely won’t be able to respond to hearing his name called. Dementia has hampered his ability to communicate.
Disorientation can also lead to mobility issues, and often times a person like Frank is a fall risk. It is easy for people with dementia to stumble on uneven terrain. In our story, if Frank cannot stand up again, it will be more difficult to find him. A normal search and rescue for a missing person with dementia can take, on average, about 18 hours.
Where Project Lifesaver Shines
This is where Project Lifesaver shines! If Frank were part of the Project Lifesaver Program, the search time for him can be reduced to an average of 30 minutes. As part of the program, Frank’s family will complete an application that will give searchers some pertinent background information and pictures of him. This program would also fit Frank with a locating bracelet, either on his wrist or ankle. Many people prefer the wrist version, which looks and feels like the size of a watch band. The bracelet has a radio transmitter, which has its own unique frequency.
Project Lifesaver in Action
Now the story changes! When Frank “exit seeks” and goes missing, a 911 call is made. Pictures and background Information about Frank are given to a search and rescue team. This team uses the Project Lifesaver equipment to detect the frequencies from Frank’s locater bracelet. In this way, Frank can be found in a timely manner. This time factor can make a huge difference in reducing potential injuries and reducing stress! Search and rescue teams are well-trained in how to calm and put a missing person like Frank at ease and return him home safely. Being in the Project Lifesaver Program and knowing how it is used to help loved ones be located quicker is a huge stress relief for caregivers, family and friends.
Project Lifesaver makes a difference! This program is available in:
Whatcom County: Dementia Support Northwest, (360) 671-3316 or online Alzheimer Society Project Lifesaver
Skagit County: Skagit County Sheriff’s office, (360) 416-1911
Snohomish County: Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, (425) 388-3825
Jan Higman, Director Dementia Support Northwest