Thursday, January 17, 2008

Rusk County OKs Alzheimer's Project Lifesaver funding

By ALEXA DUKE
Henderson Daily News

In a few months, families of Rusk County's Alzheimer's patients can rest a little easier, knowing that if their loved one should wander off like Shirley Hunt did last summer the odds of their being found are much greater.

Rusk County Commissioner's Court voted Monday morning to complete the funding required for the county to purchase and begin using Project Lifesaver, an internationally acclaimed identification and tracking system for individuals with dementia and Alzheimer's who have a tendency to wander.

The Henderson High School Class of 1954 met for its 53rd reunion on Oct. 27 with 43 members and spouses in attendance. During the day, the group voted to donate $1,000 to Project Lifesaver in honor of class member Shirley Harris Hunt, an Alzheimer's patient who wandered away from her Good Springs home on June 19 and has not been seen since, said Jamie Huff, Community Relations Coordinator with the Alzheimer's Alliance of Northeast Texas, who presented the issue to commissioners.

Monday's court meeting was held in a courtroom full of Hunt's family and classmates in support of the agenda item that will provide the remaining $5,829 needed to implement the electronic tracking system that finds most Alzheimer's or dementia patients in an average of 23 minutes.

In addition to the $1,000 raised at the class reunion, the group worked with the Alzheimer's Alliance to organize the first Alzheimer's Walk in Rusk County, which raised more than $3,000 of the $10,000 needed to purchase the system.

“We are really excited for Rusk County,” Huff said this morning. “We don't want anybody else to get lost. Project Lifesaver won't keep them from wandering, but it will give families peace of mind. It keeps a lot more people at home.”

Huff told commissioners it should take six months or less for everything to be in place and functioning with the new system.

“I will meet with the county judge and the sheriff's office to set up a training time - it's a three-day training to learn how to utilize the equipment and use the digital searching equipment,” Huff said.

Those who are part of the Project Lifesaver Program wear a personalized wristband that emits a tracking signal. When caregivers notify law enforcement that the person is missing, a search and rescue team responds to the wanderer's area and starts searching with a mobile locator tracking system. Search times have been reduced from hours and days to minutes.

The Project Lifesaver wristband is much more than a passive ID bracelet. It is a one-ounce battery-operated wrist transmitter emitting an automatic tracking signal every second, 24 hours a day. The signal is tracked on the ground or in the air over several miles. As each wristband has a unique radio frequency, the Project Lifesaver search team positively locates and identifies the person who has wandered away from home or a care facility.

Each bracelet costs $275 plus a $10 per month maintenance charge to replace batteries. Many patients will require assistance to be able to afford the bracelet, so Huff said area service groups and individuals are encouraged to provide scholarship funds so all patients who need the device can have one.

“Scholarships from the community are usually needed,” Huff said. “I will be working with County Judge Sandra Hodges to apply for a grant for up to $2,500 to help with that. The Extension Office has volunteered to help change batteries. That can be done at Kingsley Place or we can have volunteers go on home visits, which would be great.”

To contribute to the Project Lifesaver fund in Rusk County, send a check made out to “Alzheimer's Alliance” with “Project Lifesaver Rusk County” in the memo line to: Alzheimer's Alliance of Northeast Texas, 211 Winchester St., Tyler TX 75701.

For more information about Project Lifesaver in Rusk County and other local Alzheimer's Alliance services and events, contact the Alzheimer's Alliance of Northeast Texas office at (903) 509-8323 or (800) 789-0508, or visit or e-mail .

Editor's note: Additional details on action taken in Monday's meeting will be featured in the Wednesday edition.

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