‘Prevent a tragedy:’ Officials in Carter Co. talk about available resources after missing man found dead

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CARTER COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Officials in Carter County explained that there are resources available to cognitively impaired people in hopes of a less tragic outcome after a Roan Mountain man with dementia was found dead near his home.

After 65-year-old Thomas Hastings went missing and was later found dead near his home in Roan Mountain, the Carter County sheriff and Alzheimer’s Tennessee urged care partners of those living with cognitive impairments and other disabilities to sign up for the multitude of resources available through both agencies.

One option is Project Lifesaver, a non-profit organization that provides tracking technology for people at risk of wandering.

“This is not something where people are watching you. We’re not sitting and tracking you,” Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said. “This is just something that prevents you from wandering off and in the event you do wander off it helps assist us in locating you, that’s all.”

Lunceford told News Channel 11 that Hastings would have qualified for the program.

“But with him, he wasn’t reported missing until three days after he had gone missing to the best we can determine. They’ve got to be reported missing immediately. It’s imperative that we get on as quick as we can,” he said.

Alzheimer’s Tennessee worked with the Carter County Sheriff’s Office years ago to get the Project Lifesaver program started.

“I think it helps greatly. But having said that, I will also say that there’s no plan or there’s no device or there’s no amount of planning that can always prevent a tragedy, but I do think Project Lifesaver is a good first step,” said Tracey Wilson, Northeast Tennessee regional director of Alzheimer’s Tennessee.

Wilson told News Channel 11 that there are a plethora of programs available to folks who are care partners looking after those living with mental illness.

“Very few counties in our area, believe it or not, they’ve all been approached but very few have taken steps in order to be able to offer that program. So I think again having Project Lifesaver definitely is step number one, and then through Alzheimer’s Tennessee, we can offer the found program. Also at no cost to families as well as we offer grants in order to provide alarm systems for doors for windows, and then we can do a home assessment to make recommendations based upon a specific family shirring,” she said.

Wilson said not to panic. Though people with cognitive impairments do sometimes wander, it’s not guaranteed.

“Now, I do want to point out 60% of people with a term cognitive impairment diagnosis will wander at some point during their disease process, but what that also means is there’s 40% that will not,” she said.

Alzheimer’s Tennessee also offers a MedicAlert program called FOUND.

“Because that symbol the MedicAlert symbol is nationally known. So I think if someone other than a first responder who may be a little more knowledgeable of the Project Lifesaver, what that unit, what that device looks like sees a medical symbol, they can begin the search in a different way. So, I think, you know, a plethora of planning systems are probably the safe route,” Wilson explained.

She said there are other options too for more highly-functioning patients living with cognitive impairment.

“There are also systems that can be put in trucks or cars, those types of things I know one of the potential drawbacks to Project Lifesaver is the removal of the bands so they make that extremely complicated, but that, of course, can also be done but I think Project Lifesaver along with FOUND in some other safeguards put into place, definitely can make a difference in a lot of the situations,” she said.

Sheriff Lunceford told News Channel 11 his agency offers different programs too.

“We have a couple of different programs where we can help seniors, not just those that might have some form of dementia, but if you’re at home, you’re by yourself and have no family we will check on you from time to time. But these are things that you have to come see us and sign up for we have an application process. If you have a child with autism, things of that sort. It’s a separate program that we manage here but we put a GPS locator on them where we provide the batteries. Same thing with certain elderly people,” he explained.

Lunceford asked that folks in need of assistance go to the sheriff’s office website, or visit his office.

But after the tragic end to the search for Hastings, Lunceford said he hopes people take advantage of the options.

“Maybe somebody can get signed up and they will prevent a tragedy and that’s what we want…people have a tendency not to reach out. I don’t know why, but we’ve done our best to advertise these things over the past. I can’t remember when we implemented this program but we do now,” he said.

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