With oversized watch-like bands, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office will soon be able to track individuals with a high propensity to wander.
For people who have loved ones suffer-ing from Alzheimer’s disease, Down syn-drome, autism and other related disorders, Project Lifesaver may be the answer.
Sheila Vella of Castle Rock said she and one her sisters cared for their 83-year-old mother, Lura Brown, with Alzheimer’s disease for five years before becoming overwhelmed with concern about wander-ing away.
“Sure enough, just as 17 sister and I thought Mom would never have a wan-dering problem, my sister called and said you’re never going to believe what just happened,” Vella said. “She was out the door to supervise a tree removal, even though no tree removal was happening.”
Her mother didn’t get very far the one time she walked out of the home without thinking, but Vella said it takes only one rime and began keeping a baby monitor with her at night.
“Anytime she was out of sight, it became a concern,” Vella said.
Though Vella’s mother lives in a 24- hour care facility now, Vella said Project Lifesaver would have been something she probably would have checked into right away, if it were available at the time.
“I would not rule it out at all,” she said. Douglas County will be the fifth coun-ty in Colorado to participate in the Project Lifesaver program, following in the steps of Arapahoe, Boulder, Jefferson and Mesa counties.
The program uses a high-tech tracking system where a tamper-proof wristband emits a silent radio signal transmitted to tracking receivers used by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office to locate adults and children within a one- to two-mile radius.
“In Colorado alone there are 63,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease and 60 percent will wander at least once during the course of the disease,” said Maureen Shul, program coordinator for Douglas County.
Sheryl Thompson, owner of Assured Assisted Living, a specialty memory care home in Castle Rock, said with short-term memory loss, individuals don’t have the reasoning skills to stop and say, “I’m lost. Help me.”
“My feeling is that! hear all over the -country that someone wandered off in the middle of the night,” Thompson said. “If this saves one life, it is worth it.”
Deputy Ron Hanavan, sheriff’s office public information officer, said there were 85 missing persons reports in 2005 and about five of those would fit within the criteria of at-risk individuals who would benefit from Project Lifesaver.
The cost of implementing the project is $5,510 and was paid for through a $6,000 donation by a couple from Castle Pines.
Victor Mitchell said he and his wife Amy have a special affection for seniors and decided this was a program worth having in Douglas County.
“When ‘I hear about these stories, it concerns me,” he said. “It would be diffi-cult enough to deal with a family member with Alzheimer’s disease, but would be unimaginable to also deal with wandering. I hope other Douglas County residents will continue to contribute to this pro-gram so the program will be sustainable long-term.”
Each wristband costs an additional $277 with a monthly fee of about $8 to pay for things that need to be replaced such as batteries. The Castle Rock Senior Center also gave a $1,000 donation.
“On a professional level, I think we are dealing with the aging population and with that comes dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and I think these tracking devises will increase safety and miniinize the wor-ry and apprehension that these families have,” said Sandy Prichard, director of the Castle Rock Senior Center.
The program is expected to be up and running April 1. Shul said Colorado is the 42nd state to implement the program.
“There will come a day when this will be a nationwide program,” she said.