There’s a strong possibility that Felisa Lizada would not be alive today if not for the sheriff’s Search and Rescue Unit.
To recap: Lizada, 62, has dementia. She disappeared Monday morning in Los Osos and was found by a Search and Rescue volunteer Tuesday afternoon in a heavily brushed gully. Her injuries indicated that she had fallen, and rescuers doubted that she would have survived another night out of doors.
We’re relieved by the outcome, yet we can’t help but recall other, similar incidents that did not end on such a positive note.
Over the past eight years, four San Luis Obispo County seniors with dementia left their homes and have never been found. The potential for more such tragedies is huge.
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Wandering incidents occur in nearly 70 percent of people with dementia, and if they aren’t found within the first 24 hours, they have a 50 percent chance of being seriously injured or dying.
The outcome is vastly improved, though, by Project Lifesaver — a tracking system for people with medical conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Subscribers wear battery-operated transmitter wristbands that can be tracked by the Sheriff’s Department.
In San Luis Obispo County, Project Lifesaver has been in operation for five years, and in that time, the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Unit has found every person wearing a wristband — and generally very quickly.
Had Lizada been wearing a wristband, for example, rescuers believe she would have been located Monday afternoon, and would have not have spent a night outdoors.
Given the effectiveness of the program, it’s disappointing that participation is so low. Currently, there are about 70 subscribers. When you consider there are about 6,000 people in San Luis Obispo who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the number should be much, much higher.
“Why we don’t have 400 or 500 hooked up, I don’t know,” said sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Maki, who coordinates the Search and Rescue Unit.
Neither do we.
We don’t believe it’s due to lack of awareness; there’s been plenty of coverage of Project Lifesaver in the media, and the Sheriff’s Department and advocacy groups have been diligent about getting the word out. Cost should not be a factor either. There is a $150 deposit and a $30 per month charge for the service, but there is financial help available for those who can’t afford it.
Maki believes that some families may not opt for the service because their loved ones have not yet wandered away. But given the statistics — remember, nearly 70 percent of people with dementia will wander — that’s taking a huge risk.
Project Lifesaver leaves much less to chance, and that in turn, brings peace of mind to caregivers.
So why wait? If you have a relative, friend or neighbor who would benefit from the program, please look into Project Lifesaver today.
Go to www.projectlifesaverofslo.org or call 548-0909. The toll free number is 877-548-0909.