Project Lifesaver Program keeping people safe

By Page H. Gifford

When Joyce McCollough’s husband’s illness left him with cognitive challenges, she joined the many caregivers whose loved ones’ safety becomes a priority. When you are the only caregiver, you cannot turn your back for fear your charge may wander off somewhere. This fear creates a significant amount of anxiety for the caregivers.

But McCollough found a solution that gave her peace of mind, a program called Project Lifesaver, a personal locator system available throughout the U.S. McCollough is enrolled in the Fluvanna County Project Lifesaver program.

“I knew, because of my job, that there were GPS systems out there to monitor children with disabilities, so I started exploring systems for adults with dementia,” said McCollough.

Their goal is to provide a quick response to save lives and reduce potential injury for adults and children who wander due to Alzheimer’s, autism, and other related conditions or disorders. They have saved over 3,800 lives and the longest search was in California for an autistic child that took five hours and fifty-nine minutes. The shortest search was for a person with Alzheimer’s in New Mexico and it took only three minutes. The average is 30 minutes or less or 95 percent less time than conventional searches.

Searching for wandering or lost individuals with Alzheimer’s, autism, down syndrome, dementia, or other cognitive conditions is growing and without effective procedures and equipment, searches can involve multiple agencies, hundreds of officers, countless volunteers, and thousands of dollars. The most important feature of the system is reducing the time it takes to locate these people and avoiding the risk of something tragic happening to them.

Project Lifesaver was started in 1999 as a local entity in Chesapeake. It is a community- based, public safety non-profit organization, providing law enforcement, fire and rescue, and caregivers the first program of its kind using locating technology in search and rescue.

“The Project Lifesaver bands are easy to apply and keep up with.  The system is a band and fob that can be put on the wrist or ankle.  The battery needs to be changed once a month by someone from the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s office.  The fob is given a number that can be tracked through GPS,” said McCollough. “Should the person wearing the fob become lost the sheriff’s office has a device that can locate the fob eliminating manpower that would be needed to find a lost dementia patient. I have checked our destinations over the last few years and all of the localities show they have this system available should he wonder away from me.”

Structured with using state-of-the-art technology, community policing requires specific education courses, including innovative search and rescue methods not often used in traditional search and instructions on how to approach individuals with these conditions. Training requires certification and includes the use of the equipment and implementation of strategic methods designed exclusively for the program, including the use of the PLS Database which is a useful tool provided to member agencies at no cost.

There is a one-time cost for the transmitter and   low-cost monthly fee which is nothing compared to the peace of mind that caregivers receive in return knowing their loved one is safe.

“Project Lifesavers has given me peace of mind. In practical everyday life, it has meant that I, as the caregiver, can leave him alone to go to the bathroom in a store  or shower at home without worrying because if he decides to take a walk I know that I have a backup way to find him.”

For more information about this program, visit

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