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Family working to keep Alzheimer's patients safe

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Family working to keep Alzheimer's patients safe
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Eight months after a Tompkins County woman suffering from dementia died after wandering off, her family is working to ensure it won't happen to anyone else. YNN's Tamara Lindstrom tells us about a program they're pushing to try to save lives.

TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. -- On a cold day last spring, Johanna Kirkwood left her apartment while her husband was running a quick errand and wandered off.

"It was very cold that weekend and snowy and windy. And I knew mom had a low pain tolerance for the cold," said her son, Jim Kirkwood. "And unfortunately, the weather wasn't in our favor."

The 81-year-old grandmother had been diagnosed with dementia a few years earlier. Hundreds of rescuers and volunteers searched for three days, but Kirkwood was discovered too late.

"As the days progressed, we knew that the chances of finding mom still alive were very slim. So then it was let's just find her so we can give her a proper burial," Kirkwood said.

Her body was found in a grassy area less than a mile from her home. Now, her family is working to see that it doesn't happen again.

"Emotionally, physically, it was unbelievably draining," Kirkwood said. "But my mom's particular circumstance, I think had a great probability of not having a fatal outcome if this Project Lifesaver program had been implemented in Tompkins County. And that's what we want to bring to this community."

A gala being held in Ithaca Wednesday night called "An Evening to Remember" will raise funds to help implement Project Lifesaver in Tompkins County. It's a service for people with Alzheimer's, dementia, autism or other conditions that can cause them to become lost.

"They have to wear a bracelet on their ankle or their wrist. And there's a radio frequency that the Tompkins' Sheriff Department would have to be able to locate people."

Kirkwood hopes it will save other families the pain of losing someone they love while honoring the memory of his mother.

"She had dignity, even in the last few hours of life," he said. "It was all about family, friends and the community for her. She was a school teacher by trade and everybody loved her."

One way or another, Kirkwood says he's determined to see technology put in place.

Wednesday's gala will include food and drinks and a live auction. The event starts at 5:30 at the Clarion Hotel in Ithaca.

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