It’s an all too familiar tragedy: An elderly man or woman suffering the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia wanders off from their home and their body found days or weeks later in the nearby woods or in a drainage ditch.
Or someone with a cognitive disorder who still drives makes a wrong turn, gets confused and cannot find their way back home. Their vehicle is discovered months later hundreds of miles from where they were last seen and they’re body is found nearby.
Or a child with autism wanders off from a backyard party and his or her body is found by a passing hiker even though searchers had combed the area.
Michael Kahlenberg, coordinator of senior services for the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office and director of volunteers for YANA — You are Not Alone — said stories such as these don’t have to end tragically.
The sheriff’s office and YANA have launched Operation Lifesaver, which keeps tabs on people suffering the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia, or other cognitive disorders, such as Autism, via electronic wrist bracelet.
Fort Bend County Sheriff Eric Fagan helped launch the program with a press event that included the first senior citizen to enroll in the program.
Fagan clasped an electronic radio monitor around the wrist of the elderly gentleman named Dale, who welcomed the oversight.
Kahlenberg said eight sheriff’s deputies have been trained in using a device to track down the individual radio signals assigned to each individual enrolled in the program.
Kahlenberg said he hopes Dale is the first of many senior citizens who enroll in Project Lifesaver.
“This is a real life-saver, just like it’s name says,” Kahlenberg said.
“Project Lifesaver will literally save lives.”
He said the program is a perfect way to keep tabs on elderly folks and others with the onset of dementia, Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders who have a tendency to wander.
“A lot of times people with Alzheimer’s will simply wander out of the house or yard,” he said. “They usually don’t go far, maybe only several hundred yards away, but they get lost and there’s a scramble to find them. Sometimes they’re found in time. Other times, they’re not. Sometimes they’re bodies are found days, weeks or even months later in a ditch or beneath some brush only a short distance away from where they were last seen.”
Once, he recalled, an elderly gentleman was supposed to make a left at the corner but made a right instead — an error than ended tragically.
“He was suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia,”Kahlenberg recalled.
“He knew the path to the store but when he turned the wrong way, he apparently got confused and couldn’t find his way back. Three months later they found his vehicle several hundred miles away. And they found his body a short distance from his vehicle.”
Another elderly person who wandered away from their home was found a short distance away. He had succumbed to the elements, Kahlenberg said.
The wrist band and radio beacon can help prevent that sort of tragedy.
The wrist band and radio beacon can be picked up by a receiving unit even if the individual is several miles away from the last place they were seen.
“A family member can call us and tell us they lost their father or mother or child, and where they were last seen, and we can send a sheriff’s deputy to that location and help search. If they’re wearing our monitor, we’ll be able to pinpoint their direction with our equipment and maybe save their lives.”
Kahlenberg said the hand-held receiving unit can pinpoint a wrist band within three miles.
The hand-held receiver unit beeps louder when it is aimed toward the wristband and grows faint when it is aimed away.
By constantly sweeping an arc the deputy can slowly pinpoint the wristband and its owner.
Kahlenberg demonstrated the device once for some school kids and they roared their approval when he was able to find the wristband hidden among the students.
It’s important to begin searching for loved ones as soon as they are discovered missing, Kahlenberg said.
Once, an elderly woman wandered away from home. She was found days later only three hundred feet from her home. She had died of exposure, Kahlenberg recalled.
The sheriff’s office sent out a news release to media recently in hopes of helping promote Project Lifesaver.
“Every year, Fort Bend County families with loved ones who have dementia, Alzheimer’s, or autism go through the agony of seeing their loved ones wander off from home,” Sheriff’s Fagan said in the news release.
“Project Lifesaver International, a program which allows caregivers to register their relative with dementia or autism, is available again through the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office. In the program, individuals afflicted with these cognitive disabilities wear a wrist or ankle transmitter that emits a tracking signal. If that person goes missing, the caregiver notifies the sheriff’s office who can send a deputy to the wanderer’s location.”
Kahlenberg said one sergeant on each shift will have a receiving unit at their disposal.
“And it’s so easy to learn, they can teach other deputies to use it in less than five minutes,” he said.
The wristbands and radio beacons cost about $300 each, so Kahlenberg said the sheriff’s department and YANA plan to hold benefits to generate revenue for the program so it doesn’t require tax dollars.
They also are hoping to receive monetary donations.
Already more than 50 individuals and businesses have contributed to Project Lifesaver.
Organizers also are selling Project Lifesaver T-shirts for $20 each to help fund the worthwhile project.
Want to buy a shirt and help fund the program? Aim you cell phone bar code scanner at the bar code at the top of this story and it will take you to the web page. Or, go online to https//fort-bend-county-you-are-not-alone-inc.square.site/.
Anyone who wants to enroll a loved one in the program, or donate money to Project Lifesaver, is encouraged to reach out to Kahlenberg at 281-341-YANA (9262) or via mail at Michael, Coordinator of Senior Services, Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, 1840 Richmond Pkwy, Richmond, TX 77469.
A LITTLE ABOUT YANA
According to the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, YANA is a free telephone reassurance program for seniors or disabled citizens of Fort Bend County who live alone.
The purpose of this program is to battle the social isolation many senior citizens face.
YANA volunteers call registered citizens weekly if not daily to check up on them.
Kahlenberg said there are about 20 volunteers who tend to the 100 seniors a part of the program.
Anyone who would like to volunteer to check up on senior citizens is encouraged to contact YANA at 281-342-9262.