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Wed, Dec. 11

YCSO's radio bracelet program saves lives

Persons with these disabilities spend most of their lives with the constant presence of caretakers, but sometimes, suffering from confusion or disorientation, they wander off, get lost and become victims of crime or exposure.

Quayle said there are an estimated 5,000 people in Yavapai County who suffer from Alzheimer's disease alone. Sixty percent of Alzheimer's sufferers are known to wander, 72 percent are repeat wanderers and 46 percent of these victims may die from any number of causes if not found within 24 hours.

In early 2003 YCSO initiated "Project Lifesaver," a program that uses tiny radio transmitters to help quickly locate dementia patients who wander away. Now, having finally garnered enough donated capital to buy a minimum amount of equipment, YCSO is ready to launch the program.

Project Lifesaver fits "at risk" patients with personalized radio transmitters in the form of wrist bracelets, which they wear 24 hours a day. The bracelets transmit a coded locator beacon - similar to the crash locator beacons installed on aircraft - at a power of one-half a watt, twice the power of an ordinary cellphone. If they wander away, Search & Rescue personnel can locate the patients with special receivers tuned to the bracelet's transmitting frequency. In addition to quickly finding the patient, Project Lifesaver allows for a minimal use of Search & Rescue manpower.

YCSO Sgt. Gene McFarland said the program has been very successful in quickly finding lost patients in other states.

"Sometimes it can take days to find a wandering dementia patient," he said. "We once found a subject deceased less than a mile from his home. This program is a tool to prevent that.

"In Virginia, where the program started, the longest recorded search for someone wearing a bracelet is 37 minutes," he said. "The fastest was two minutes from the time the police were called. The average time is around 22 minutes."

YCSO is the first agency to use the Project Lifesaver program in Arizona and, as the state's program coordinator, YCSO is the focal point for training, development and distribution of equipment.

"Dedicated volunteers as well as YCSO employees are involved in the development of the program and their training has been extensive," Quayle said.

YCSO's volunteer VIPS take most of the responsibility for administering the program, including going to homes to change bracelet batteries every 30 days and maintaining the receiver equipment, and YCSO trains volunteer Search & Rescue personnel in using the equipment.

When an applicant meets specific criteria for need, YCSO will set up an account to issue and service a bracelet. "Our service is a guarantee that we're going to be there to answer questions, to service the transmitter and, in a walk-away situation, locate the subject," McFarland said.

For more information about Project Lifesaver or to make a tax-deductible donation to help buy the bracelets, call YCSO Sgt. Gene McFarland at 771-3589.

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