Seniors & Aging

It was nearly 20 degrees the day he went missing. Here’s how police found him quickly

Project Lifesaver allows the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office to offer individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia a transmitter bracelet, right, that can tracked.
Project Lifesaver allows the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office to offer individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia a transmitter bracelet, right, that can tracked. McClatchy file

At about 4:20 p.m. Feb. 7, 2014, police responded to a report of a missing 71-year-old man from Columbia Place Retirement Center. The man walked away from the facility against the wishes of facility staff, who said he was not capable of caring for himself, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.

The low temperature on that day was nearly 20 degrees, and it was critical that he be located as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, he was wearing a bracelet that was a Project Lifesaver radio tracking device. He was found about 8:30 p.m. when a deputy with a receiving unit traced the signal to the area of Champion and Holly streets. The man was physically OK, but disoriented.

Project Lifesaver was introduced in Whatcom County in 2008 as a partnership between the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office and the Alzheimer’s Society of Washington.

Search and rescue deputies along with several trained search and rescue volunteers maintain several receivers that track transmitter signals and aid in searches. On a national scale, searches that used to last hours have been reduced to an average of about 20 minutes for those who are wearing the transmitter, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.

Utilizing search and rescue experts for urban searches is an excellent example of the collaborative nature of local law enforcement, according to law enforcement authorities. It would not be cost effective for every local agency to maintain a search and rescue element. Project Lifesaver reduces the time, funds and manpower needed for search and rescue missions involving a special needs individual.

Caregivers and family members are able to enroll clients in the Project Lifesaver program through the Alzheimer’s Society for a nominal fee. For information on how to enroll in Project Lifesaver, contact the Alzheimer Society of Washington at 360-671-3316.

The Whatcom County population is aging and, as this happens, more and more people in our community will be affected by dementia.

Since 2007, there have been five search and rescues, said Tom Oliver, who operates Project LifeSaver for the Alzheimer Society.

“We’ve had really good success,” Oliver said.

There are at least 12 Alzheimer patients currently outfitted with the bracelet. At least 75 to 80 have relied on it since its inception in Bellingham.

For the loved one of an Alzheimer’s patient, the bracelet is a source of comfort. The device offers peace of mind instead of leading the loved one or caregiver to panic, Oliver said.

“They protect the men and women who are mentally gone, who don’t know where they are, where they are going or how to get back,” Oliver said.

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