OCSO introduces Project Lifesaver

Bracelets keep track of those at risk

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office is introducing a new program aimed at keeping some of our most vulnerable residents safer.

Because his own mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease before her death, Sheriff Noel E. Stephen said he has always been particularly aware of the struggles caregivers go through, and one of those struggles, in many cases, is that they tend to wander off and often get lost. In his 34 years with the sheriff’s department, they have searched for many Alzheimer’s patients, as well as many with special needs and/or autism.

That is why he was excited when Cpl. Jack Nash found “Project Lifesaver.” Cpl. Nash is the community liaison and has been reaching out looking for just this type of thing to help our community, they said. “As we find options, we research them and there are grant dollars associated with it, and we want to make sure they are healthy options for us,” said the sheriff. “I spent six years with my mother with Alzheimer’s, and she was a wanderer. We have had several cases over our careers where people have wandered off. Why not bring this to 30 people that could benefit?”

The grant enabled them to purchase 30 bracelets at this time. The bracelets cost $200 each. Donations are welcome if anyone else wants to buy additional bracelets for the program.

The person who is wearing the bracelet will not be able to take it off. Every month someone from the OCSO will go out to their home to change the battery. They will make sure the battery, the packet and the transmitter all work together. During the home visits, the OCSO staff and the program participants will get to know each other. A member of the OCSO and a member of the Alzheimer’s Association or the Autism Society will go together.

The tracking system is through radio waves. It seemed to be a better option than GPS, said Cpl. Nash. “We have dead areas in our county — with GPS, with cellphones. Anyone who travels in our county knows this. This system works off radio waves. There are no dead spots for radio waves. We can track them up to five miles. If we are called within the first hour, we have a very good chance of finding them. Even within three hours, we have a good chance.”

The sheriff’s office is not deciding eligibility. The hard launch will be on Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Health and Safety Expo at the Agri Civic Center. Anyone who is interested can meet with members of the Alzheimer’s Association and/or the Autism Society, The expo is from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. who will have applications. They are the ones who will determine who will be in the program. The sheriff’s office will be the facilitators of the program. They will do the issuing and the tracking of the devices. They will maintain and do the upkeep on the devices and the trackers.

The Alzheimer’s bus will also be on site. It is an RV that has been retrofitted to give you information and understanding on how Alzheimer’s works as you walk through.

The person who needs the tracker does not have to be present. A caregiver or family member can come and fill out the paperwork without bringing them. After the expo, the information will be available online. Another benefit to those who are enrolled with the tracking system will be that they will be put into the system. If the caregiver is in a car accident and is unable to speak for the person with Alzheimer’s or autism, then when authorities run the caregiver’s name, it will show they are the caregiver of John Doe, who has Alzheimer’s or autism. This will help the EMS personnel to know how to respond to the situation. They will also be given DNA kits.

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