June Cannon wanted to do everything she could to protect her now-late husband, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

That's why she immediately called authorities about getting her husband enrolled in Project Lifesaver after hearing about the program. The program is a tracking service that aids authorities in locating victims suffering from cognitive diseases who are prone to wandering from home.

“The program's No. 1 mission is to bring people's loved ones home safely,” said Capt. Eric Abdullah, a spokesman for the Aiken County Sheriff's Office. “It's for anybody who's at risk of wandering and can't tell you who they are, where they live and things of that nature.”

How it works

The service is also for small children who suffer from autism or Down syndrome. It is a partnership between the Sheriff's Office, the Aiken Department of Public Safety, and the North Augusta Department of Public Safety and has been in the county since 2007.

According to Abdullah, there are 22 people who use the service in the county, 13 in the City of Aiken and three in the City of North Augusta.

The service operates through a small transmitter worn around the wrist or ankle of the person it is intended to track, according to Abdullah.

“It sends out a radio signal 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “When the caregiver notices that their client is missing, we will respond with our dogs and electronic search equipment and start searching for the client.”

A woman who had wandered from her home in New Ellenton last year was located in 58 minutes, Abdullah said.

The transmitter itself cost $315, but the service is free.

Anyone wishing to get a family member or loved one enrolled should visit the Sheriff's Office website (www.aikencountysheriff.org), click on the “Community Services” tab and scroll down to Project Lifesaver. Complete the application and get the physician's statement form filled out, then mail them back.

“Their physician has to fill out this physician's statement form and say whether or not he feels like they're at risk for wandering,” Abdullah said. “Then a representative from the program will come and evaluate the potential client.”

'I looked at it as protection for my husband'

Linda Lucas, community relations director for DayBreak Adult Home Care Services, said a majority of their clients have some form of dementia.

“People that progress with the condition, they get disoriented quite often,” she said. “One of the primary things they really want to do is go home, wherever 'home' in their mind may be. So if they're in a facility, they want to go home from the facility. If they're in their own home, they may be thinking of a home they grew up in.”

Lucas serves on Project Lifesaver's committee and said Daybreak uses the service as often as they can.

“I can't recommend anything higher,” she said. “We always say it's not if they're going to leave, it's when they're going to leave.”

It was the same sense of preparation that persuaded Cannon to get her husband John enrolled in the service after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

“I keep pushing people not to wait so long because there's a lot of security in having that,” she said. “The longer you wait, the disease progresses, the harder it is to con them into wearing it. You never knew when that disease would progress so much. I thought, why wait until they wander and then get it?”

Cannon said an officer came by each month to check on the device and to change the battery.

“He was like a member of the family by the time my husband passed away,” she said.

Cannon said family members often feel they're loved one is “not ready” for a monitoring device, or that it's “embarrassing” for them to wear.

“You don't tell people that's stupid thinking, but I say, 'Why not?'” she said. “To me, that's just one of the treatments. Any little thing you can do, knowing that is a very big possibility.”

Cannon said she never had issues with her husband wandering from home, but she didn't want to wait until it happened to do something about it. She and Lucas feel not enough people know about the service.

“I looked at it as protection for my husband,” she said. “You might not ever need to use it, but you can look at yourself in the mirror and say, 'I did everything I could.'”

Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.