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Project Lifesaver: Saving Lives of At-Risk Youth and Adults

Updated on December 15, 2013
lrc7815 profile image

Linda lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia. She lost her father to Alzheimer's disease in 2015.


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

Personal Experience

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


Submit a Comment

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Macteacher, thank you for the visit. I hope you never have need of Project Lifesaver. I think it's so valuable to families who do need it and hope it will help for others to learn of its availability. Thank you for the votes!

  • macteacher profile image

    Wendy Golden 

    4 years ago from New York

    What a great hub. I knew nothing about this. Since I have aging parents this is good to know. Thanks for sharing a valuable resource. Voted up!

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Denise, thanks so much for stopping by. I am so happy to bring this project to those who don't know about it.

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi Jaye! Tks so much for sharing my enthusiasm about this project. I'm glad you never needed it with your Mom. I appreciate that you are sharing this one. It's important, in my opinion.

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hey Miz B! It's good to hear from you. Happy holiday season to you and the Mr. I'm glad you mentioned the telephone alert gadget and the "help, I've fallen" one. All of these are tools that can help, depending on your situation. What I love about Project Lifesaver is that they work like dogs to defray the cost to the client. Thanks for the vote up. Sending hugs your way.

  • denise.w.anderson profile image

    Denise W Anderson 

    4 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

    It is good to know that this type of service is available for people with these types of issues. Thanks for sharing!

  • JayeWisdom profile image

    Jaye Denman 

    4 years ago from Deep South, USA

    This is a terrific project, Linda, and one that I didn't know about before now. As you know, my mom had Alzheimers and moved in with me when she was diagnosed. She never wandered off, but there was always someone with her. Otherwise, she would have been a candidate for a Project Lifesaver bracelet.

    Chief Saunders is definitely a real hero, as are all the Project Lifesaver volunteers. Hats off to each of them!

    Voted Up+++ and shared


  • MizBejabbers profile image

    Doris James-MizBejabbers 

    4 years ago from Beautiful South

    Hey, girlfriend, good to see you around again. This sounds like a wonderful program. I'm just glad that I don't have anyone close to me who needs it, but for those who do I'm sure it brings peace of mind. The fact that the family isn't paying fees of $50 to $100 a month is a godsend. Some families need the "Ive' fallen and I can't get up Alert," but can't afford it. My mother should have had one. The day she fell and broke her hip, she was able to crawl to a telephone to call 911. We tried a special telephone that had an alert the person could wear around their neck, but it wouldn't work on her phone line. Sooo, I'm very happy to hear about Project Lifesaver for people with diseases that affect their memories. Voted up ++

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    4 years ago from Central Virginia

    suzettenaples - Thank you so much for the visit and for the generous compliments. I am thrilled that my family found this program and cannot praise it enough. I hope this article will help others who need the peace of mind it provides.

  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 

    4 years ago from Taos, NM

    How wonderful and interesting to learn of this lifesaver program. I love your intro - the candy does draw one in! LOL So many people can benefit from this program and it is good of you to bring it to light for us. Thank your for an interesting and informative article!

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Shauna, kidscrafts, Pamela, Maria, and Theresa - I am so happy that you each have expressed your interest in sharing about Project Lifesaver. As a client, I am a staunch advocate for this program. When my family checked into it and learned that the costs were covered by grants and the staff was so dedicated, we were blown away. I do so hope that those who need the comfort this program provides will find there way to all the places you've offered to share it. Thank you all so, so much. Love to each of you!!!

  • phdast7 profile image

    Theresa Ast 

    4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    Linda - What an amazing invention and system. I a so impressed that agencies are working together and that trained volunteers do the searching. How miraculous that people are being found and returned home safely, and so swiftly. Thank you so much for letting us all know about this program. I will spread the word in my community. Blessings. Theresa

  • marcoujor profile image

    Maria Jordan 

    4 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

    Oh what a fabulous initiative that has such a positive and consistent outcome. Thank you for sharing, dear Linda and I will be happy to pass on to my community nursing students.

    Hope you are having a peaceful evening, my dear friend. Love, Maria

  • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

    Pamela Dapples 

    4 years ago from Just Arizona Now

    This is really good news. Thanks for sharing it with us. It's important.

    Voting way up and Pinning.

  • kidscrafts profile image


    4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

    What a great project... as much for the people with Alzheimer as for their families. As you said in your article, it's important to be able to find someone lost fast and for the family members, it's great peace of mind.

    The candies were a great way to start this article :-)

    Great information worth keeping!

    Have a great week!

  • bravewarrior profile image

    Shauna L Bowling 

    4 years ago from Central Florida

    Linda, this a an awesome and much needed project. Thank you for bringing it to light. I am sharing and will also forward this hub to a friend of mine whose husband suffers from Alzheimer's.

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Faith, you are so generous with your love and support and it means the world to me. I wish you the most wonderful days of the season too. Love and hugs!

  • Faith Reaper profile image

    Faith Reaper 

    4 years ago from southern USA

    What a wonderful project indeed! Thank you for sharing about it. It is inspiring.

    So glad to see you writing.

    Up and more and sharing

    God bless you and hope you have a wonderful Christmas,

    Faith Reaper

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Bill, I was reading your Chicken Chronicles while you were here visiting. Thanks for the support. I thought about H.O.W. as I was writing this but have been out of touch for so long that I wasn't sure if the site was back on Wordpress and I haven't had time yet to check. Put this wherever you want. I feel strongly enough about Project Lifesaver to want everyone to know about it. Thanks Kindred. I can always count on you and that too is priceless.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    4 years ago from Olympia, WA

    One man who cared....isn't that how so many worthwhile organizations person making a difference? Well done, Kindred. This should be on the H.O.W. site if it isn't already...I'll take care of that.

    Sending you hugs and love on this rainy Sunday.

  • lrc7815 profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Crist 

    4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Jackie, thanks so, so much. I'm glad you never needed it with your Mom but I'm sure glad it's available for my Dad. I remember being about 9 years old and my 6 year old brother vanished while we were at a public lake. The panic on my mother's face is etched into my brain. I was too young to really understand but I understood that look of sheer terror. It was horrid. We found my brother wandering around the campground so all was well in the end. As an adult, I can only say that Project Lifesaver has given me a peace of mind that is priceless. I hope others who need it will find this article and look into it. Thanks again.

  • Jackie Lynnley profile image

    Jackie Lynnley 

    4 years ago from The Beautiful South

    Wow, this really sounds great. My mom never wondered off either but I would have certainly had one for her for just in case. There is always that first time. Great info and sure it will help many. ^


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