Finding help for wanderers

Published 11:08 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2011

It’s hard enough trying to raise a child with Down syndrome or autism — or to take care of an aging parent with Alzheimer’s disease — without the constant worry of what will happen to them if they wander out of the house or from the yard. But for many families, that is exactly the fear that consumes them.

Wandering related to a medical condition is surprisingly prevalent. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 60 percent of adults with dementia will wander at some point while they have the disease. And considering the fact that Baby Boomers are entering their golden years, the incidence of Alzheimer’s is likely to continue to grow during the next 20 years, meaning that more and more families will experience the panic associated with Alzheimer’s-related wandering.

But wandering isn’t just a problem with aging adults. In a 2007 online poll by the National Autism Association, 92 percent of participating parents of autistic children reported their children with autism have a tendency to wander. In fact, drowning, prolonged exposure and other wandering-related factors are among the top causes of death within the autism population of adults and children.

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With those frightening statistics as a backdrop, a group of public safety officers from all over the United States, Canada and Australia got together more than a decade ago to form Project Lifesaver International, whose goal is to help families find their wandering loved ones and to get those family members home quickly.

Clients of the nonprofit organization, which operates on donations, wear personal transmitters that can be tracked by participating fire departments, police departments and other emergency agencies. The program has rescued 2,381 clients since its inception, finding them in an average of 30 minutes. There have been no injuries and no deaths among those clients. Such outcomes are far more positive than the ones that often are associated with wanderers.

Project Lifesaver does such important work that firefighters in Suffolk have actually paid out of their own pockets for people to participate, according to Suffolk Fire and Rescue Lt. Mason Copeland. In fact, it’s so important to him that Copeland and Bon Vivant wine shop owner Brenda Gillihan are working together on a wine tasting on Sunday at 2 p.m. to raise funds for the program.

Copeland said he hopes the funds raised can help purchase more personal transmitters and tracking equipment, train more fire and rescue personnel to use the equipment and enroll more citizens in the program.

Tickets are available at Bon Vivant, located at 1901 Governor’s Pointe Drive, or through Lt. Mason Copeland by reaching him at 754-8787. The cause could hardly be more worthy.