A local technology is being credited for the safe return of an elderly dementia patient after she wandered away from a Victoria assisted living residence last week.
Project Life Saver uses a locally manufactured transmitter to locate missing persons with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The transmitter is about the size of a wristwatch and emits a signal that allows search and rescue teams to easily locate individuals who have a tendency to wander.
On July 10, Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary Pacific search and rescue received a call about the missing woman and located her, unharmed, within 40 minutes.
“About 59 per cent of persons with dementia wander off, and of those, 72 per cent will do it repeatedly,” said Marjorie Moulton, executive director of We Rage, We Weep Alzheimer Foundation, which offers Project Life Saver at no charge to Greater Victoria residents.
Ron Bazuk has been participating in the program for the past year, after his father’s mental health deteriorated following Bazuk’s mother’s death. He is among the two-thirds of people who choose to take full-time care of a family member rather than rely on assisted living residences.
“His memory doesn’t last more than a few seconds now,” Bazuk said. “He might be able to tell you his wartime serial number, but if you tell him what year it is, he won’t know a few minutes later.”
The survival rate of a person with cognitive impairment – in good physical condition – is only 50 per cent if they are missing up to 24 hours. After 24 hours, they are likely to be severely injured or dead. It was that stark statistic that compelled Bazuk to sign his father up for Project Life Saver.
“A few months back, I’d been to the store and came back, and just couldn’t find him,” he said. “I went around the block a few times, and this is the first time I used it. … I called and it was a matter of five, 10 minutes. They found him … he was in front of the Empress. He was quite content there, he didn’t think there was any big deal.”
Bazuk was initially embarrassed of calling for help, something Moulton admits is common amongst new users of the service.
“People feel maybe a little bit uncomfortable asking an outside party to help, or they think the Search and Rescue have better things to do,” she said. “But really, this is what Search and Rescue is there to do. They do it because they care, they love it and it’s important to them to keep these folks in the community safe.”
We Rage, We Weep Alzheimer Foundation is a charitable organization that also provides art and music classes to those with dementia. Project Life Saver is used by more more than 17,000 people across the United States and Canada. Since 1999, it has been used in more than 2,500 searches and has a 100-per-cent success rate.