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The Silver Alert System: Finding Our Missing Elderly

Modeled after the Amber Alert System, this network helps locate wanderers.

Relatives of people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease often have the nagging fear that their loved one might wander away and get lost. It’s estimated that more than 9 of 10 people with dementia who leave the house alone are likely to be unable to find their way home without assistance, giving caregivers and other relatives endless moments of anxiety until their loved one is found.  The Silver Alert System is designed to provide some reassurance to anxious relatives that their missing seniors can be reunited with them. The Silver Alert is patterned after the Amber Alert system, but instead of missing children this one informs the public about missing seniors with mental impairments.

Silver Alert System: How It Works
On a local level, the Silver Alert System works much like the Amber Alert. The missing person incident is reported to the local police. Personal health information may be necessary, and it should show that the person (age 60 or older) suffers from dementia or is otherwise mentally impaired. Relatives should also provide other details that would help in tracking down the missing senior. After verification, the local police inform the state agency tasked to issue alerts.

A statewide Silver Alert is then issued by the state agency. In many states, it’s the Department of Public Safety; in some others, the alert is issued by the State Police, Highway Patrol or Department of Law Enforcement, the State Bureau of Investigation, a State Center for Missing Persons or even the State Attorney General.

Once issued, the alert is displayed on electronic highway signs and broadcast on radio and television. There is one difference, however. In the case of Amber Alerts, alerts of missing children immediately interrupt regularly scheduled programming. As currently implemented in the states that have a Silver Alert System in place, the message does not break into regular programming, but is announced on air only during commercial breaks, which occur every hour or half-hour.

To protect privacy, many states require the personal health information to be deleted once the alert has passed.

Silver Alert System: States Setting The Trend
Silver Alert was started in Colorado in 2006. By the end of 2008, 12 other states had implemented a Silver Alert system: Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia.

This year, several more states, including Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington are considering legislation to set up their own Silver Alert programs.

Success rates have been impressive, although not all states have made their specific results available. Georgia has issued 68 Silver Alerts and all the missing seniors were found. There have been 27 alerts in Florida (which ranks second after California as having the highest population of seniors in the US) and all were found, with six being specifically attributed to the alerts.

Silver Alert System: Going National
Legislation has been filed in Congress that would create a national network for Silver Alerts and provide $10 million in federal funding to help states with their programs. The bill, known as the National Silver Alert Act 2009, was approved by the House last February; it is now awaiting action in the Senate.

Many organizations believe the need for Silver Alerts can only increase in coming years. The proportion of elderly in America will expand as the huge Baby Boomer generation moves into retirement range.

Wandering is one of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, which currently affects at least 5.2 million Americans.  The Alzheimer’s Foundation estimates that at least 60 percent of them—3 million people—are likely to wander in the course of their disease. Further statistics indicate that, among people with dementia who wander, at least 50 percent could suffer serious injury or die if they remain missing for more than 24 hours.

Like a missing child, a missing elder can be a family’s worst nightmare. Time is of the essence in these situations. The Silver Alert System is one way to help get seniors back before any harm can come to them.