By Michael Ullery
December 18, 2013
MIAMI COUNTY — Safety. When a family member suffers from a disease that can lead to wandering, there is nothing more vital than the safety of a loved one.
Peace of mind. For family members, knowing that a loved one is protected is a welcome relief.
Project Lifesaver, a “reliable rapid-response partnership with law enforcement, aiding victims and families suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders such as Down’s Syndrome and Autism,” is just such a program.
The program, originating in April of 1999 on the East Coast, was instituted in Miami County by the sheriff’s office in 2004.
Sergeant Mike Marion has been spearheading Project Lifesaver since it began in Miami County. There are currently eight deputies involved with the program.
Project Lifesaver involves program participants wearing a small transmitter device, similar to a wristwatch, on their arm or ankle.
There are reported to be over five million people in the U.S. currently suffering from Alzheimer’s and related disorders. It is predicted that the number will triple by 2050. One of the leading problems for Alzheimer’s patients and their families is that patients are prone to wander and become lost.
Marion said that 60 percent of Alzheimer’s patients are prone to wandering. Of that number, 33 percent tend to wander multiple times.
Through Project Lifesaver, families and caregivers have a resource to locate loved ones before they suffer injury or death.
When a participant wanders away, family members can contact 9-1-1 and deputies will respond to the last known location of the wearer. They use a device that homes in on the radio frequency transmission and follow the signal until they locate the bracelet wearer.
The device and locator have a range of approximately two miles. If the situation warrants, air support, such as CareFlight, can be called in to assist. In the air, the radio beam range can be nearer to ten miles.
Applicants for the program meet with a sheriff’s deputy, have a photo ID taken and fill out forms that assist deputies in identifying and become aware of important information that might be needed, should the bracelet wearer wander and become lost.
When the program began in 2004, the cost to participate in Project Lifesaver was $350, the cost of each transmitter unit.
Since then, the cost to participate was dropped, allowing anyone with a need, the chance to gain peace of mind for their family and loved ones.
The project in Miami County is funded by grants and donations. The Miami County Foundation, as well as the Elks and Eagles are among the contributors to Project Lifesaver.
Batteries in each transmitter last about a month. Once a person is enrolled, a program deputy stops by once per month to check on the participant and change the battery in the device.
Miami County currently has 17 clients enrolled in the program. Ten are senior citizens and seven are children.
The nationwide average time to find wandering Project Lifesaver clients is 30 minutes. The national average time to locate wandering patients who are not enrolled in Project Lifesaver, or a similar program, is 36 hours. That is literally, the difference between life and death, in many cases.
Since 1999, there have been 2,765 total searches for wandering Project Lifesaver clients. All have been successful.
The program is being used by more than 1,200 agencies in 46 states and in Canada.
Marion summed up those numbers and the success of Project Lifesaver by saying, “It’s a good program to have.”
For more information on Project Lifesaver in Miami County, contact the sheriff’s office at 440-3965.