Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Project Lifesaver - How Far Would You Go?

A story about a high tech way to help people deal with a very difficult disorder and some real special folks who care enough to do something!

How far will you go to protect a loved one?
Story by: Miranda L. Pennock 03/17/09 CNYLink

Onondaga County Undersheriff Warren Darby understands what it’s like to see a parent suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.

He also knows the trials and tribulations of being a caretaker for another person with a dementia-related illness.
But it took the will of one woman, Ruth Boshart, to get the county on track, and now Sheriff Kevin Walsh, a Skaneateles native, is welcoming and giving his support to Project Lifesaver International.

“It is a program that has been around 10 years next month,” Darby said to a small group that joined him and Boshart for a presentation on March 10 at the Skaneateles Community Center.

The program works with a transmitter, which is about the size of a watch, that is worn around the wrist of a wanderer — frequently those with dementia, autism and special needs. The transmitter gives off a signal and if the wearer should wander away from family, they can call 911 and police will come with special equipment to search. Average rescue time is about 30 minutes, Darby said.

Along with ground patrols, the sheriff’s department has Air-1 pilots trained for search and rescue using the equipment.Boshart’s husband, Ron, suffers from Lewy Body Dementia, a progressive brain disease that is the second leading cause of degenerative dementia in the elderly, according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association Web site,

Her husband had no fear and would leave the house or walk away in public without saying a word. Boshart had reached the point of exasperation, she said. “He could disappear in a heartbeat,” she said. “You have no idea the fear and the anxiety that goes through a caregiver.”

Boshart tried talking to doctors, discussed GPS units, cell phones and even contacted Welch Allyn in Skaneateles Falls about existing products they had that might be of some help. “My husband does not have Alzheimer’s disease,” Boshart said.

When it comes to Lewy Body, no medications slow down the progression of the disease, and in some cases cause the patient to act out in anger toward their loved ones, as Boshart found with her husband. No matter the case, it’s tiring for caregivers to keep a constant eye out to make sure the person in their care is not wandering or getting into harm’s way.“You literally run on exhaustion,” Boshart said. “You learn to live this way.”

Then she found out about Project Lifesaver and that Oneida County had the program and said she called them and asked what she had to do to get a unit. She would beg, borrow or steal one of the bracelets to keep her husband safe.Darby came into her life and together they began working on bringing the program home.

Now Ron lives at Van Duyn, he is wheelchair bound and can barely speak, but he has his eyes. Every day Boshart goes to have lunch with him.“This program brings you a peace of mind. My husband still wears his bracelet with pride,” Boshart said.

Currently there are 43 people in Onondaga County registered with the program, 17 of whom are children with autism and down syndrome. The program was started with the help of Sen. John DeFrancisco, who secured a $25,000 member item for Project Lifesaver. The funding allowed the sheriff’s department to purchase 30 transmitters.

Ron Boshart received the first transmitter. Darby, whose mother and father both died from Alzheimer’s, said trained officers visit families who have transmitters once a month to change the batteries in the units. The transmitters are waterproof so people wearing them can shower and swim with them on.Transmitters cost $300 each, and there is a $10 battery fee every month.

Darby said there is a project account set up to help those who cannot afford the unit, and they will pay for the transmitter. The account is also set up in order to receive donations from the community.“We look at this as just another layer of protection for your loved one,” Boshart said.

For more information on Project Lifesaver International, contact the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department at 315.435.3044, or log onto, or

View: Project Lifesaver presentation

If you’re in the area, interested people may also stop at Sheriff’s Department headquarters at 407 S. State St., Syracuse, New York USA

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