Rock County Sheriff’s Office to help people who wander or get lost

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Ted Sullivan
Sunday, June 27, 2010
— Local caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease, Down syndrome or autism can soon have their patients wear wristband transmitters to locate them if they’re lost.

Rock County sheriff’s officials will start Project Lifesaver in July and offer people transmitters to reduce the time it takes to find wandering people.

Grants paid for 12 bracelets and other startup costs of the program, Capt. Russ Steeber said. A $25 setup fee and $6 monthly fee will be charged to people.

No one will be excluded from the program if they can’t pay, Sheriff Bob Spoden said. The program could expand in the future.

“We’re quite confident that once the word gets into the community that we’ll probably have more clients than we’ll have bracelets,” he said.

Deputies will be trained on how to use the technology and conduct searches when a missing person is reported, Spoden said.

Sheriff’s officials are working with the Rock County Developmental Disabilities Board, Rock County Long Term Support, Rock County Council on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Support Center to find people who would benefit from the program, Steeber said.

Tammy Pence, interim executive director at the Alzheimer’s Support Center, said Rock County has 3,500 people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She said 75 percent of patients wander.

“It’s been a dream of mine for this to happen because there is such a need for this,” Pence said. “It reduces a lot of stress for that caregiver.”

The transmitters could keep patients from having to enter a facility for their own safety, she said.

“This could keep them at home a little longer, and that’s what everybody wants is to stay at home as long as possible,” Pence said.

Project Lifesaver was an important program for Spoden because he had a family member with Alzheimer’s. He said he knows how a monitoring device can make family members feel safe and secure.

Spoden’s family member also had wandered off.

“I can’t tell you how frightening that was,” he said. “I understand how they feel. I understand the uncertainty and how frightening that can be.”

Project Lifesaver has helped find 2,500 people nationwide without any deaths, Steeber said. Most people are found in less than 30 minutes.

“That’s a pretty good track record,” he said.

In Rock County, several people have died of exposure over the years after getting lost or wandering in the winter, Spoden said. Reports of missing or wandering people continue to happen.

“It’s much more common than it used to be,” he said. “We are seeing more and more people with dementia that are living within our community, and with that comes some of these concerns.”


A waterproof transmitter worn on the wrist emits a signal.

If the person gets lost, two deputies with receivers would respond to the location the person was last seen. The deputies would use receivers to find the unique signal of the transmitter worn by the missing person.

Searchers would know how close they were to the missing person or which direction to go based on the strength of the signal. They would then track the signal until the person is found.

Last updated: 1:59 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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