MOUNT VERNON — Cyndi Atkinson barely had time to panic between realizing her husband was missing and when he was found.
Cyndi’s late husband, Russ Atkinson, suffered from Alzheimer’s and was at risk of wandering. A few years ago, Russ was overdue from a walk while they were visiting a church in Newark. To find Russ, Cyndi was counting on a small wrist transmitter Russ was fitted with through Project Lifesaver.
Police picked Russ up in a nearby park less than 10 minutes after Cyndi reported he may be in danger.
“It wasn’t five minutes later that they called back and said we found him,” Cyndi said. “I was like ‘What? Found who?’ I couldn’t believe it.”
Currently, there are 11 Knox County residents fitted with transmitters through Project Lifesaver. They have rarely been used — Knox County Sheriff’s Lt. Tim Light said Knox County residents have been located in two searches since the program started in 2013, including the Atkinson’s emergency in Newark. In both instances, however, the use of the transmitters was successful, Light said.
Law enforcement enter the transmitter’s individual frequency numbers into a hand-held receiver that has a range of a mile. Light said searchers can be carried out on foot if the individual’s approximate location is known. If not, law enforcement use the receivers in their vehicles until a signal is detected.
The frequency assigned to Russ’s wrist monitor was available to Newark Police because they participate in Project Lifesaver as well. There are currently 1,200 agencies in 45 states that participate in the program.
The local program was spearheaded by Debbie McLarnan after her husband, Tom, had a wandering incident following a fall. McLarnan said it is usually up to the family to decide when Project Lifesaver is needed.
“(The Alzheimer’s patient) doesn’t realize they’re not quite functioning as they should be,” McLarnan said. “They often will go back to a place in the past, and think they are just stepping out. But that place isn’t there anymore.”
Meredith Lowther, assistant director of the Station Break, said there is often some reluctance on the part of the family to take part in the program also.
Cyndi said that once she got Russ in the program, knowing he could be easily located if he had a wandering episode became a comfort. It was one less thing to worry about in her daily routine of care for Russ. Russ sometimes questioned why he was wearing the receiver, strapped to his wrist, but he usually just thought it was a watch, Cyndi said.
Project Lifesaver is available for anyone of any age who has a cognitive condition that may result in wandering. Currently, there are seven juveniles with developmental disabilities in the local program, Light said.
McLarnan further suggests families who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s attend the local Alzheimer’s support group, which meets at 6:30 p.m. every second Tuesday of the month at Brookdale Senior Living.
Financial assistance for the program is available on a sliding scale, Lowther said. To enroll in Project Lifesaver, contact the Station Break at 740-397-2417 or e-mail Lowther at email@example.com. They may also be obtained through the Knox County Board of Developmental Disabilities at 740-397-4656 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org