Masquerading Around..

Volunteer Spotlight

Volunteer Spotlight

Meet Tom Oliver

Volunteer Coordinator

Find Me safe Network

Project Lifesaver

Let’s get to know Tom & Project Lifesaver:

What do you do here at Dementia Support Northwest?

“I manage Project Lifesaver, and anything else that is needed really.”

How did you get involved with DSNW?

“In 2007 the Sheriff’s Department was asking for search and rescue to train for Project Lifesaver. After my time in the Navy (20 years) I got into search and rescue. I got vetted by the Sheriff’s office. I was in the first group of those search and rescue to train for Project Lifesaver. About ten years ago I had to come into the Alzheimer Society of Washington’s office to bring up some batteries for their Project Lifesaver bracelets and got recruited and have been here ever since. It kind of became my baby”.

How would you describe Project Lifesaver?

“It’s a locating device that can be worn on the wrist or ankle and has to be cut off to be removed. The device itself is a radio transmitter that is run by battery that lasts about 2 months”.

What is the cost and how does someone go about utilizing this service?

“A donor has donated the bracelets so the only fee to the user is $45 a quarter”.

Are there any available now here at DSNW?

“Yes, there are a few that are available right now”.

When should someone look into Project Lifesaver or a similar program?

” I suppose at any point there is confusion about getting back after going out somewhere, or the first time they wander, but really before that”.

What do you suggest that people do that aren’t local but could benefit from something like this?

“Contact their local Police or Sheriff”.

How is Project Lifesaver different from other locating systems?

“PLS is a radio transmitter, not a GPS.  GPS or Cell locators can face challenges and don’t always work in mountains, thick forest, culverts, certain buildings, or in water. Project Lifesaver works in these situations due to the radio transmission. With PLS if someone is in a culvert it will take the signal to either end of it. We think it is the best choice for a mixed rural/urban environment.”

So what is the process from start to finish?

“They would contact me by calling or emailing the office. After filling out an application I would get in contact with them, to talk to the caregiver to get a feel for the situation and if it’s a good fit I would put the bracelet on the individual”.

Can people still travel while wearing PLS, if so, any tips for that?

“Yes, they should take a copy of their paperwork with them because it has all the needed information such as the transmitter number on it so IF the law enforcement at their destination has PLS they can late them with it “.

What happens if you are met with resistance by the individual that is supposed to wear the bracelet?

“We always try and I have had some experience with finding ways to persuade them to allow it to be put on”.

Anything else?

Volunteers are always welcome; they must pass a background check. I am more than happy to come speak about Project Lifesaver upon request.

A note from Dementia Support Northwest:

Project Lifesaver is designed to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable citizens in our community.  The tendency to wander is prevalent among people with dementia. Traditional search methods rely heavily on the ability of the lost to respond to the searchers when they call. If a person is unable or chooses not to respond to searchers, concern for their well-being is increased.

If an elderly person with dementia is outdoors for more than 24 hours, their chance of survival drops to 50% due to exposure.

Staff Spotlight

Meet Jan Higman:                  

Executive Director

Dementia Support Northwest

                Formerly known as
the Alzheimer Society of Washington





How long have you worked here?  “A little over 2 years.”

What made you want to work here?  “That story starts about 46 years ago. I’m named after my Grandmother who came to Germany to help my mom when she was pregnant with me. She came over in January; I wasn’t born until March 27th. The doctors were slightly off on their due date! My dad suggested they name me after her for her staying and being there.  That created a bond between us; I’m the only one who she shared her secret recipes with.  She had Vascular Dementia as a result of multiple strokes.  She loved going to church, and I would come over when she couldn’t go anymore, I would read passages from psalms to her. In the Garden was her favorite hymn, she sang it to me all the time as a little girl so I would sing that to her, it brought her comfort and joy. It made me want to help others on their dementia journey and try to help them find their peace and joy.”

What is one of the most fulfilling things about working here?  “Just one? I would say I think one of my favorite things is watching someone who comes to one of our early memory loss classes’ blossom as a result from the group. Helping them find that joy in life again. Very simply, just making a difference in the lives of people who really need it. They really need it.”

Can you think of one story that has had a big impact on you?  “Yes actually. Frank, Josselyn’s husband. I remember I came here for the open house, that’s when I was being introduced as the new ED (Executive Director), it was a few days before I actually started. I was going to meet a ton of people and I was pretty nervous.  He was stationed in Germany, so he was interested in talking to me because I was born there. We had a long conversation; he just had a way of talking to people and calming them down. I always remembered that. So when he started coming to our groups he did the same thing for the group, he was very well loved and calming to everyone. When he passed away it was devastating for all of us here in the office. But I’ll never forget that, he made my very first time with the organization very special.”

Do you have any frustrations within your job?  “I would say that my frustrations are not being able to do everything that our caregivers and our people need from us. That’s a frustration.”

Can you explain the name change a little?  “So, we often get confused for a local chapter or a statewide organization and also get confused with the Association, so to eliminate some of that confusion we wanted to change our name.  We decided on a name that is more inclusive because we serve all dementias not just Alzheimer’s, and also to convey what we really do here. Where some organizations are focused a lot on raising money for research, we help support people who are going through the journey right now. We are still incorporated as the Alzheimer Society of Washington (ASW) and will continue to be so, but we will be doing business as Dementia Support Northwest (DSNW).”

What are the organization’s needs right now?  “We need facilitators so we can continue to add support groups as the ones we currently have grow too large. That’s our biggest need. And obviously funds to continue to be able to offer our groups/programs for free or minimal costs. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit which means we rely on donations, grants, and community support.”

How would someone go about becoming a facilitator?  “Last year we developed a community facilitator program, so they would contact the office so we can coordinate a date to conduct the training. It is a time commitment, but then they would be able to facilitate groups at their church, in their community, while under the guidance of Dementia Support Northwest.”

Are there future goals for the organization?  “Short term- we would like to be able to extend more of our services into Skagit County, and again expand the support groups we have here in Whatcom County already.  Some are beginning to grow quite large so we would like to be able to have more in more communities. Long term goals would be to open a satellite office in Skagit County and also acquire grants and funding to be able to purchase or build a permanent residence for Dementia Support Northwest in Bellingham”

What message would you like to get out about dementia?  “Dementia is a long, stressful journey; depending on what type you have you can live anywhere from 7 to 20 years after diagnosis. Most people do not think of dementia as a chronic and terminal illness, it is both.  However, upon diagnosis there is still in many cases a long life to live and you can still find joy and meaning and hope in that life.”


For more information about our staff and what we do:

Visit our website at

Or contact us at

Email: [email protected]

Office: 360.671.3316

1301 Fraser Ave Suite A-1

Bellingham, WA 98229

Who should be spotlighted next?! We would love to hear your thoughts!

HEAD Talk: Understanding the Genetics of Alzheimer’s disease

Tuesday, january 22, 2019 at 5:00pm

St Luke’s Community Health Education Center Bellingham, WA

Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be influenced by lifestyle habits, other medical conditions, and genetics.

Dr. Ryan Fortna and Dr. Marci Hardy will be discussing the role that genetics plays in your brain health and Alzheimer’s disease risk, including a discussion of ApoE and other genes. They will share how lifestyle and environment contribute to how your genes are expressed and disease is developed or delayed.