For Greg Hall, a new program offered by the Floyd County Police Department could mean peace of mind for his family.

Greg’s mother is living with dementia. His father had Alzheimer’s and would wander off unexpectedly. While his mother is mostly independent, she does have moments in which she is not herself. These are the moments that terrify Greg.

“I try to give her some independence but she’s at the point where she could possibly get lost and not know how to find her way home,” he said. “Project Lifesaver would give us peace of mind knowing that we could locate her should something like that happen. That’s very important to me.”

Many local families are in the same situation. Their loved ones are living with dementia or cognitive impairment and could easily wander from home or away from a caregiver and become lost.

The Floyd County Police Department recently partnered with Project Lifesaver, the brand name for a non-profit located in Virginia. They offer radio transmitter technology to families who have loved ones living with dementia, autism or any cognitive impairment that may cause them to wander from home.

Some of these people who wander away may not know how to return to their homes or may not have the means to do so. They could become lost and unable to communicate with others. A situation like this could become dangerous or even deadly.

Over the past couple years, the police department has responded to at least six incidents in which the device could have been used to locate a person. According to the police department, those incidents resulted in hours of search by officers on foot and by vehicle, use of search K9, helicopter and sheriff posse resources.

Project Lifesaver is a community based, public safety, non-profit organization that provides law enforcement, fire/rescue, and caregivers with a program designed to protect, and when necessary, quickly locate individuals with cognitive disorders who are prone to wandering.

HOW IT WORKS

A family can choose to sign up for Project Lifesaver and their loved one wears a tracking device, about the size of a watch. In the event that the person becomes lost, specially trained officers will be dispatched to the last known location of the person who wandered away. FCPD has two handheld devices and two vehicle mounted antenna to help detect a signal if the person wanders farther away than expected.

Radio technology and trained search-and-rescue teams are key to the program’s success. A person enrolled in Project Lifesaver wears a small transmitter on the wrist or ankle that emits an individual frequency signal.

The Project Lifesaver Program is run locally by public safety agencies. When an agency decides to implement the program, Project Lifesaver International equips them with the necessary technology and provides training to go along with that. The training includes the use of the equipment, as well as community policing courses that provide a basic understanding of cognitive conditions to better comprehend the behaviors of individuals with those conditions. Also included during training is the use of the PLS Database, which is a useful resource provided to member agencies at no cost. Completion of training is required for certification. Once an agency has become certified, they may begin acquiring clients for their local program.

According to the FCPD, a number of local families are already enrolled in the program and are using the device. So far, they have not had to use the device to locate a missing person, but they have used the system’s database to locate a child who was non-verbal with autism.

Cathy Baucom has ordered a Project Lifesaver device for her son Charlie. Charlie is 7 years old and is autistic.

“Developmentally he’s about 2 or 3,” Cathy said. “He has a history of ‘eloping’ which is the term they use for kids who run away. He had stopped for a while but this year he started doing it again and it’s very worrisome.”

Cathy said even though Charlie’s family and his teacher are very diligent, there are times when the 7-year-old escapes their care.

“He enjoys it,” she said. “He thinks it’s fun to run. He doesn’t understand how dangerous it is. And his favorite place to run is in the road.”

For the Baucoms, Project Lifesaver offers a great measure of relief. It’s one more step in keeping Charlie safe, Cathy said.

“He’s very fast and we don’t know what he’s thinking or where he wants to go so if he gets away from home or school we wouldn’t know where to start looking.”

The Baucoms live in Cave Spring and attend church in Lindale. Cathy said they had a GPS tracker for Charlie but many times it wouldn’t work because there wouldn’t be a signal. Project Lifesaver’s radio tracker doesn’t have that problem.

And the GPS tracker was attached to Charlie’s clothes which he could easily remove.

Cathy said Project Lifesaver could offer peace of mind for many local families in her position.

“And I have to commend Sgt. (Chris) Fincher and the Floyd County Police Department for getting to know Charlie and learning more about him,” she said. “The more comfortable he is with them, the more likely he’ll be to remain calm if he runs away and they go looking for him. Charlie is functionally non-verbal. He won’t tell people his name or where he lives. But if he’s located, the FCPD and Project Lifesaver will help get him back to us a lot quicker.

The cost for local families to participate in Project Lifesaver is a one-time cost of $375, which goes toward the purchase of equipment. The Area Agency on Aging has also invested in several transmitters which are available to persons age 60 and over.

To find out how your family can participate in Project Lifesaver, call 706-235-7766 to speak with an officer who can discuss the available options.

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