Project Lifesaver a Lifeline for Caregivers of Elopers & Wanderers
Elopement, a fancy term for running away or purposely leaving somewhere unnoticed and unsupervised to fill a need, is a relatively common problem for individuals diagnosed with dementia and intellectual disabilities. Individuals with autism and those who have more significant intellectual and communication deficits may be more likely to elope.
Half of all persons with autism over the age of 4 have attempted to elope at least once and 24% of elopements were in danger of drowning and 65% were in danger of traffic injury, according to the National Institute of Health. The risk of elopement increases with the severity of autism.
Elopement is very different from wandering. Wandering is when someone leaves a safe area or a responsible caregiver, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Most times they have no concept of their personal safety A person living with dementia is likely to wander or become lost or confused about their location at some point, even in the early stages of the disease. Six in 10 people living with dementia will wander at least once; many do so repeatedly, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Elopers and wanderers can both be chronic offenders, repeating their behaviors.
These intentional or unintentional escapes from safe places are not just limited to people with autism or dementia. Individuals with Down Syndrome, stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, head injuries or psychological diagnosis have been documented wandering or eloping.
The Project Lifesaver Program is a bracelet that is put on a person who is at risk for life-threatening elopement or wandering. Nationally there have been more than 4,000 rescues of vulnerable individuals using the technology.
The devices use radio signals to track people with autism and Alzheimer’s disease when they wander and become missing. A specialized group of Project Lifesaver sheriff’s officers respond to emergency calls involving persons with dementia, autism, Downs Syndrome or other conditions that make it difficult to find their way back to safety after wandering away or elopement.
A program participant wears a battery-powered bracelet which emits a radio-tracking signal 24 hours a day and weighs about one ounce. When police receive a call about a missing person enrolled in the program, Project Lifesaver officers activate a receiver that picks up the unique radio frequency emitted by the bracelet to locate the missing person effectively and safely in minutes, not hours or days.
Fifteen minutes is the average search time in Monmouth County once a call is received, which is half of the national search time of 30 minutes. “As long as we get boots on the ground in the first five minutes, as soon as we flip on the receiver we can tell where the person is and how far away they are,” said Monmouth County Sheriff’s Officer Patrick Luke, who runs the Project Lifesaver program for the county.
Bracelets have a battery life of about 60 days and the device does not need to be removed for charging. The sheriff’s office takes on the responsibility of maintaining the equipment, changing the battery and ensuring that it works properly, said Luke.
The bracelet can send a signal that is picked up from about four miles away on foot or seven miles by air.
There 1,600 member agencies from all 50 states and some Canadian providences that participate in the program. Participant information can be transferred from state-to-state for snowbirds.
Eligibility criteria include (may vary slightly from county to county):
- Person must have a dementia (any form of the disease) diagnosis
- Person must be accompanied by a caregiver 24/7
- Person must not operate a vehicle or take unsupervised walks
- Person cannot live alone
- Person has a history of wandering
To enroll seniors over age 60 with any form of dementia or their caregiver can call:
- Monmouth County Office on Agingat 732-308-3770, ext. 8780 to review the eligibility requirements and ask to be sent an application for the Project Lifesaver tracking bracelet. All others may call the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office at 732-431-6400 ext. 1129.
- Ocean County, please call 732-557-4427 for information and an application.
- Mercer County residents should call the Mercer County Sheriff's Office at 609-989-6109.