Escambia is among counties Project Lifesaver will benefit

Published 2:41 am Monday, December 22, 2003

By Staff
Project Lifesaver offers help and hope to Alzheimer's victims and their families. The program uses state of the art technology employing wristband transmitters to locate wandering and lost individuals.
Law enforcement officials from Coffee, Dale, Escambia, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Pike counties were in Ozark Nov. 19-20 to learn about the Project Lifesaver program, which has the ability to track Alzheimer's patients who walk away from their home.
Investigator Lee Hall from the Escambia County Sheriff's Office participated in the training.
The patient is fitted with a transmitter no bigger than a watch, which is worn on the wrist. The frequency is recorded by the attending agency, along with other pertinent information about the patient. Should the patient walk away, the caregiver notifies the agency, and a search is begun immediately using the Care Trak CTR-1000 Receiver. The signal from the transmitter can be picked up by ground and air patrol units and the patient can be located quickly. Search times that have normally been as long as days can now be reduced to less than 30 minutes.
The Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office, which was the first in Alabama to become part of the Project Lifesaver program, is the coordinating agency for the state. The Dale County Sheriff's Office was the second in the state to become part of the Project Lifesaver program.
These two counties have been followed by Jefferson, St. Clair and Baldwin counties.
The Alzheimer's Resource Center serves a 22-county area in southeast Alabama and northwest Florida.
In Alabama, an estimated 78,000 people have Alzheimer's disease, and approximately half of these wander away from their caregiver at some time during the duration of the disease.
Alzheimer's is a progressive and degenerative brain disease that affects short term memory.
Symptoms usually involve forgetfulness, difficulty with abstract thinking, disorientation, personality changes and loss of judgment. Patients may not recognize family members and friends and may even forget where they are. A simple trip to the grocery store or mall can easily confuse an Alzheimer's patient.
When a patient reaches the wandering stage, he or she begins to walk away from home. They sometimes tell people they come into contact with that they are "going home." The home they are looking for is usually their childhood home, or the place they lived when their children were small. Of course, in many cases, that house no longer exists, and the patient is usually not able to find the way back to his or her present home. This can be a very dangerous situation, and it represents a critical emergency. The patient is at the mercy of the elements, whether the weather is hot or cold. In addition to dehydration, exposure to the cold, or the heat, they often suffer because they don't get their necessary medication.
The Project Lifesaver program was developed in 1999 by the 43rd Virginia Search and Rescue in Chesapeake, Va., and it has spread to 29 states. There has been a 100 percent success rate in 850 searches.

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