Saanich News

High-tech wristbands help caregivers track loved ones with dementia, autism or Down syndrome

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Marjorie Moulton, executive director of We Rage We Weep Alzheimer Foundation, holds up a Project Lifesaver wristband. In front of her is the tracking device that can pinpoint the location of the wristband.

Don Denton/News staff

A new program available in Greater Victoria takes a high-tech approach to help people caring for loved ones with dementia, autism or Down syndrome.

Project Lifesaver of Greater Victoria, delivered through the We Rage We Weep Alzheimer Foundation, is offering peace of mind in the form of radio tracking services for those prone to wandering.

“We want to get the word out that funding is available. If there are any families or friends who know a neighbour who might be prone to wandering, we can help them out with this program,” said David Rittenhouse, co-director of Project Lifesaver, which recently had a $7,100 infusion of cash from the Victoria Foundation.

“Wandering is a very dangerous behaviour for anyone with Alzheimer’s.”

Project Lifesaver uses wrist or ankle bands equipped with VHF directional location radio technology, developed in Victoria and first used to monitor wildlife, that has a maximum tracking distance of two kilometres. The program started 12 years ago in Virginia and has grown to include 1,200 communities across North America.

Before the service was operating in Greater Victoria, Rittenhouse was a sales associate for the developer of wildlife ID bands. He saw how successful the program was elsewhere and took the initiative to bring the service to his own hometown. In Greater Victoria, Rittenhouse has teamed up with Marjorie Moulton, executive director of We Rage We Weep.

Moulton founded that charity five years ago after several family members were diagnosed with dementia. She remembers phone calls from distressed people whose loved ones had gotten lost.

“Often people don’t know where to start looking,” Moulton said, “They’re very panicky.”

In the three years the tracking program has been available in this region, Project Lifesaver has conducted six searches for people who have wandered away from their caregivers. Each has been successful, with the average search time running 30 minutes. The financial support for the program will allow as many as 20 wander-prone clients to be fitted with the $300 wrist bands for free.

And that gives Moulton a sense of relief, especially during the coldest months of the year.

“One of the big challenges that search and rescue and law enforcement have with locating people who have Alzheimer’s is that, when you call out their name, in many instances they may be unresponsive,” Rittenhouse said, noting it’s common for someone to wander or fall where they’re hard to see, such as into shrubs or a forest.

Another concern is that dementia patients often walk away from their homes clad in little more than a housecoat and slippers, leaving them vulnerable to the elements. “For family caregivers (knowing their location) really gives peace of mind, especially with the cold snap that we’re having right now,” Rittenhouse added. “They can be found quickly and returned back to safety.”

nnorth@saanichnews.com

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