MARQUETTE - Marquette resident Jan Peck gladly offers her perspective on the LifeTracker program.
"It gives you a sense of comfort," Peck said. "Should my mom wander, we have a resource that can help find her."
Peck's mother, Claire, has Alzheimer's disease. For nearly seven years, Claire has worn a LifeTracker device, which emits a radio signal. Should she wander away from her home, Claire will be much easier to find than if she did not have LifeTracker, which resembles a large watch.
Marquette County Sheriff Mike Lovelace holds the device used by authorities to locate someone wearing a LifeTracker device. LifeTracker has been used in Marquette County since 2007. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
"For nine years, we've been dealing with Alzheimer's," Peck said. "Mom still lives in her home and we have a team of caregivers for her, including me. She's reached the point where she might wander, but she can't unlock the doors by herself any longer. But you never know and having LifeTracker is another precaution for her safety."
Yvonne Clark coordinates volunteers for the LifeTracker program, which is conducted in a partnership between the local chapters of the Retired and Senior Volunteers Program and the Alzheimer's Association. LifeTracker devices are not only used for seniors with Alzheimer's, but for people with autism or those who have experienced head trauma.
"First, our volunteer will go out to put the device on the client and they'll take the person's history," Clark said. "The history is important because it might help us know where they would head if they do wander."
The history is put on file with the Marquette County Sheriff's Office, which coordinates LifeTracker searches.
After the initial consultation, these volunteers visit LifeTracker clients once a month as part of the program.
"The volunteers visit to put a new strap on the device and to put a new battery in," Clark said. "The caregiver tests the device once a day. That's important because if the device is not working, it does no good."
Clark said the caregivers of those wearing LifeTracker devices are advised to alert authorities immediately should the person go missing.
"That's important to help get things started as soon as possible," she said.
The tracking is done with the radio-wave signal emitted by the device. The range for the signal is about a half mile in heavily wooded areas, but much farther in other areas, up to 3 miles or more.
"Sheriff (Mike) Lovelace deserves a lot of credit for this program coming to Marquette County," Clark said. "He came to RSVP looking for someone to help get it started."
Lovelace said a recent successful tracking was a reminder of how valuable the program is.
"We had a recent save," Lovelace said. "There was an autistic child in Ishpeming Township who was reported missing. We located him about five minutes after we got to the location where he had last been seen.
"LifeTracker provides peace of mind for people," he said. "We know if they have the device on them we can find follow through quickly."
LifeTracker utilizes proven technology.
"The equipment is the same as what wildlife researchers have used for close to 40 years," he said. "The radio-wave technology is better than satellite in our area because with the thick woods in most of the U.P., satellite reception would not occur.
"It's simple," he said. "And it's very effective."
Clark said LifeTracker was established locally through fundraising efforts. She said the Forsyth Township Senior Center was a major factor in the fundraising drive, along with a number of other community organizations.
"LifeTracker is a self-sufficient program. We ask (new clients) for an initial $50 donation, then $20 a month to cover battery costs, but no one is ever refused for lack of funds," she said.
Clark said donations for LifeTracker can be made through the local RSVP office.
"This is a fabulous program," she said. "I am very proud of each of the volunteers in LifeTracker. This is an invaluable program to the community."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.