Project Lifesaver: Saving Lives of At-Risk Youth and Adults
At a glance you might have thought this would be an article about a small round candy with a hole in the center. That’s what most of us think of when we hear the word “lifesaver”. It was certainly a childhood favorite when I was growing up. It was also a staple for boys and girls alike when they became old enough to date. But that was back in the days before breath mints began to fill the shelves near the cash register of every retail store. Yes, those little round candies were a life saver, back then.
So no, this article isn’t about candy lifesavers. It’s about something much more important. This is about something that really can save a life and it can do it in a short period of time and at little or no cost. We need to talk about Project Lifesaver because there is a pretty good chance that you’ve never heard of it and don’t know how important it is.
The terror of loss
Has your child ever wandered off to the toy section of a store when you turned your back for just a moment? Do you remember the sheer terror you felt? Of course you do. It is a feeling that you will never forget.
Are you living with someone who has a mental illness or, Alzheimer’s? If so, then you have probably felt a similar fear when they simply wandered out of your house alone. And like a mother who loses a child in a store, you have not forgotten those first moments of primal fear.
For parents of a child with autism or the adult child of a parent with Alzheimer’s disease, the fear of that sheer terror is a part of daily life. It doesn’t have to be, not anymore. As of this writing, 2,768 families are grateful to Project Lifesaver for finding their loved one and returning them safely home.
Project Lifesaver International
Project Lifesaver was started in 1999. One man, who cared, Commander Gene Saunders of the Chesapeake, Virginia Police Department, had an idea. As part of the Search and Rescue Division, he knew that there were too many people being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Too many of them wandered away from home. And, too many of them were found too late. Gene Saunders is heralded as the father of Project Lifesaver and he tells the story better than anyone. Watch his short video and I think you’ll agree that Chief Saunders is an extraordinary man who is a real hero.
Since its inception, Project Lifesaver has provided peace of mind to families in 45 states. It has been recognized for its contribution to families and communities by the Alzheimer’s Foundation, Bank of America, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Commonwealth of Virginia, Moving America Forward, and more. More importantly, the average time for Project Lifesaver rescues is less than 30 minutes. Think about that. Project Lifesaver has proven that through a simple technology and dedicated volunteers; your lost loved one can be found and returned to you in less than 30 minutes. Now, let’s talk about why Project Lifesaver is so successful.
How it works
In the short video to the right,Chief Saunders explains that Project Lifesaver operates using radio frequencies. As a client of Project Lifesaver your loved one who may be at risk for wandering is fitted with a bracelet that emits a radio signal. Each bracelet is assigned a unique frequency that is recorded in the Project Lifesaver database. If your loved one becomes lost, trained volunteer searches are sent to the area equipped with signal receivers. These volunteers set the receiver to locate the unique frequency of the client’s bracelet. They begin a systematic search of the area to locate the client. Many searches are complete within minutes.
See Project Lifesaver in action
Why it works
It works because Project Lifesaver partners with manufacturers, law enforcement, and other community agencies to make it work. The equipment is high quality but low maintenance and volunteers are trained to make sure it never fails. A key element for success is to maintain a strong battery signal in the bracelet. As a registered client of the project, a trained representative will visit monthly to replace the battery in the bracelet. If your loved one lives at home, you will be trained and given the equipment to check the battery charge daily. When circumstances require placement of the client in a facility (nursing home, assisted living, etc.), the staff will receive the training. They will be responsible for documenting that the battery is checked each day and a report given to the agency responsible for changing the battery.
In many cases there is no cost to the client. Most of the participating agencies receive grant funding to cover the costs of the equipment, maintenance and training. When a search is required, it is conducted by dedicated volunteers.
Families who face the fear of a missing loved one may not know that help is so readily available. The high costs of medical care or long term care may have already challenged their financial resources. That makes it all the more important to promote awareness for Project Lifesaver. Families need to know that they are not alone and that the kindness and generosity of others have created a program that will not force them to compromise safety and peace of mind for financial reasons.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the success rate of Project Lifesaver?
100%. The Project Lifesaver International web site reports that 100% of their searches are successful and that the recovery of a lost person takes an average time of 30 minutes.
Won’t my loved one be embarrassed to wear the bracelet?
No. The bracelet is lightweight and small in size. It can be worn on the wrist or on the ankle. Many clients choose the ankle because the bracelet is easily covered by trousers or socks.
Won’t the bracelet bother my loved one?
No. The old adage of “out of sight, out of mind” applies here. Again, the bracelet is very light and when fitted properly, your loved one will likely forget they are wearing it.
Does the bracelet have to be removed for baths or showers?
No. The battery is enclosed in a sealed plastic housing that is waterproof. It will not be affected by any normal activity of daily life.
Can this program be used by those with other illnesses?
Yes. Project Lifesaver is available for anyone who is at high risk for getting lost. The chart shown below demonstrates a breakdown by diagnosis of the last 727 successful rescues.
What do I do first when my loved one is missing?
Dial 911 and tell them you have a Project Lifesaver client missing. They will ask for the name of the client and instruct you to trust them to do the rest.
Diagnosis distribution of the last 727 searches
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I am an adult child of a parent who has severe Alzheimer’s disease. My Dad has never wandered away but the potential was there. A loving caregiver suggested we look into Project Lifesaver and we did. Our local Sherriff’s office is the program manager in our area and I cannot praise them enough. I made a phone call to inquire about Project Lifesaver and their staff did the rest. They explained he program and within two days we had a bracelet on my Dad’s ankle and the peace of mind we so desperately needed. It’s been four months now and Dad has never complained about the bracelet. We haven’t spent a dime and we sleep better knowing that even if Dad wanders off, there are professionals with the training and equipment to find him in a matter of minutes.
"Bring them home safe."
I warned you that this was about something more important than that little candy we all love. Project Lifesaver is just that – a lifesaver that "brings them home safe". One man, one idea, and the lives of millions changed. If you live with the fear of a lost loved one, contact Project Lifesaver and get enrolled. There’s no reason not to.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Meade
© 2013 Linda Crist