Poquoson Sgt. Hamilton Gills learned his grandfather was missing when an emergency dispatcher called him.
In his 80s and suffering from Alzheimer's disease, Gills' grandfather left home with his walker while his wife was sleeping. Wearing a light T-shirt and pajama pants, he went out on a rainy, cold February night.
"We'd always thought, 'He never wandered before.' When it did happen, we weren't prepared for it," Gills said.
After walking roughly a mile, Gills' grandfather stopped at a house and knocked on the door. He was thirsty. Authorities got him home safely, but the experience gave Gills pause, prompting him to start researching Project Lifesaver.
An international program, Project Lifesaver uses anklets or bracelets to track people with Alzheimer's, dementia, autism, Down syndrome or other cognitive disorders when they wander or become lost, according to its website.
Poquoson was one of the only police departments in the region that didn't participate in the program. This month, it joined Gloucester, Hampton, Isle of Wight, James City County, Mathews, Newport News, Williamsburg, York and other localities, signing up its first family.
"It's great to have something to offer to families in this situation other than, 'Call us if it happens again,'" Gills said. "This is just another way for us to serve."
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