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Alzheimer's Foundation of America Grants Provide Life Saving Coverage to Help Locate Those Gone Missing

NEW YORK, NY – While on a holiday cruise in the Caribbean last year , Robert Melnick wandered off during an emergency evacuation exercise. His wife, Dolores, was concerned that he might have fallen overboard, but, luckily, crew members found him 45 minutes later on an empty deck, wondering where everyone else had gone.

Back home in Mt. Holly, NJ, Mrs. Melnick also used to constantly worry about where her husband would wander off to next. Mr. Melnick, 67, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2002, and since has gone missing several times around the couple's neighborhood. Neighbors would find him wandering around and call his wife to escort him home.

Now, Mrs. Melnick has less to worry about, thanks to a strategic partnership between the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA), a national nonprofit organization focused on care issues related to Alzheimer's disease, and Project Lifesaver International, a rapid response system to track wanderers. Mr. Melnick now wears one of Project Lifesaver's wristband transmitters that emits a continuous silent radio signal that law enforcement officials can track with special receivers once a person has been reported missing.

The alliance between AFA and Project Lifesaver has provided tangible benefits to communities nationwide. Project Lifesaver agencies are eligible to apply to AFA for grants to make the rapid response system available to more Americans with Alzheimer's disease and related disorders.

AFA has provided grants totaling more than $80,000 to 18 law enforcement and public safety agencies throughout the country for Project Lifesaver programs since 2004, including five grants this spring. Of the 18 grants, four allowed agencies to start up Project Lifesaver – in Brunswick County, OH, Bristol, VA, Norfolk, VA, and Union City, NC – while 14 grants were for the expansion of existing programs .

“By providing grants for Project Lifesaver, we are helping to safeguard the growing number of individuals with Alzheimer's disease who become lost, and we give caregivers enormous peace of mind. This program truly has proven to be a life saver,” said Eric J. Hall, AFA's chief executive officer.

Mr. Melnick enrolled as a client of Project Lifesaver after AFA awarded a $5,000 grant to the Burlington County, NJ, Sheriff's Office last fall that enabled the agency to expand its program. The sheriff's office purchased two more receivers and added another 10 clients, doubling the number of people covered by Project Lifesaver in its jurisdiction.

“It is a great relief to me that Bob is now in Project Lifesaver,” said Mrs. Melnick. “I don't worry as much about him wandering off and getting lost, as I know he can be found quickly by our local sheriff's office and returned home unharmed.”

To date, Project Lifesaver International, based in Chesapeake, VA, has had a 100 percent success rate in locating 1,539 individuals with Alzheimer's disease, autism, Down syndrome, and other medical conditions, and bringing them home alive in an average response time of 25 minutes.

Since the nonprofit organization was founded in 1999, nearly 600 law enforcement and public safety agencies—sheriffs' offices, police and fire departments, and public safety agencies—in 42 states have set up this search and rescue program. They utilize mobile tracking systems that can receive the signals up to one mile away on the ground and five miles by air.

In contrast, normal search and rescue operations can involve up to 260 searchers and require close to 1,000 man hours over several days, according to Project Lifesaver.

It is estimated that 60 percent of individuals with Alzheimer's disease will become lost at some point during the progression of the brain disorder. Research shows that those who are not found within the first 24 hours stand only a 50 percent chance of survival.

“The strategic partnership between the Alzheimer's Foundation of America and Project Lifesaver International has afforded many public safety agencies the opportunity to establish the Project Lifesaver program through the Foundation's grants. This has resulted in lives saved and a reduction of costs related to searches for people with Alzheimer's disease,” said Chief Gene Saunders, founder and chief executive officer of Project Lifesaver International and a member of AFA's board of trustees.

For instance, a $5,000 grant made by AFA to the Brunswick Division of Police in Brunswick, OH, last fall allowed the city to start Project Lifesaver. So far, 17 police officers and civilians have been trained in search and rescue operations. The agency intends to enroll up to 30 clients in the program by year-end.

Emil Stecki, the division's volunteer coordinator for Project Lifesaver, was instrumental in bringing Project Lifesaver to the city after seeing its success in nearby Piqua, OH. There, a close friend of his who has Alzheimer's disease and regularly becomes lost was enrolled in Project Lifesaver; wearing the tracking bracelet, the man was found several times in a very short period of time.

“I saw what a tremendous difference this program made in the life of my friend and his family,” said Stecki.

“Without the AFA grant, [the agency] would not have gotten off the starting line so quickly. Now there are five other police departments in the county of Medina, where we are located, as well as the Cuyahoga area, interested in establishing Project Lifesaver for their communities. This grant has been catalytic in its impact,” Stecki suggested.

Other communities have been expanding their programs at a faster rate than would otherwise be the case as a result of the AFA grants. For instance, an award to the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office in Centennial, CO, allowed the county to increase the number of clients from 40 to 65, and one to the Plymouth County Sheriff's Department in Plymouth, MA, resulted in a jump from 6 to 36 participants.

It costs an agency $7,600 to set up Project Lifesaver, with most of the funds earmarked for the purchase of transmitters and tracking equipment, and training of personnel. Consumers either obtain the wristband transmitters for free or pay $350 for them, depending on the agency's program.

In addition to its grant process, AFA is working in close collaboration with Project Lifesaver to secure more funding at both the state and national level to expand the rapid response program to more communities.

An estimated five million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, including one in ten aged 65 or older and nearly one in two aged 85 or older. The incidence is expected to triple by mid-century.

The Alzheimer's Foundation of America is a national nonprofit organization headquartered in New York and made up of hundreds of member organizations that provide hands-on programs to meet the educational, emotional, practical and social needs of families affected by Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses. AFA's services include a toll-free helpline, counseling, educational materials, a free caregiver magazine, and professional training. For information, call (Toll-Free Helpline) 866-AFA-8484 or visit .

Contact: Carol Steinberg
Phone: 866-AFA-8484

Alzheimer's Foundation of America  866.232.8484