Friday, 16 October 2009 00:00
Senator Charles Schumer is pushing legislation to create a nationwide network for locating missing adults and senior citizens with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other mental impairments.
The Silver Alert Act would create a program, modeled after the AMBER Alert, which would provide federal coordination and assistance through the Department of Justice to local and state law enforcement to assist efforts to locate missing senior citizens throughout New York City and across the country. Schumer said a nationwide alert network is critical because missing adults can cross state and county lines.
He is sponsoring the National Silver Alert Act (S. 557), which will encourage and integrate systems throughout the United States to help identify and locate missing seniors with cognitive impairments. The bill will also authorize grants for these organizations. The bill has already passed the House of Representatives.
“When a person with Alzheimer’s wanders from his or her home it can be a truly frightening time for that individual and their family and friends,” Schumer said. “Statistics show that with timely notification, the chances of finding a missing person are greatly increased. This bill will provide funding for states to set up Silver Alert systems to put more people on the lookout when an adult goes missing to make sure that more families are reunited with their loved ones in New York City and across the country.”
There are 5.3 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s and the vast majority of them are 65 and older. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that there are 250,000 people suffering from Alzheimer’s in New York City and 55,000 on Long Island. Statistics indicate that the number will only grow as the baby boom generation continues to age.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 60 percent of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will wander or become lost during the course of the disease. If they are not found within 24 hours, nearly 50 percent of those who wander risk serious illness or death due to exposure to the elements, lack of food or hydration and the general inability of the individual to think, act or communicate to gain assistance. At that rate, more than 183,000 senior citizens will go missing in New York City and Long Island.
Modeled after the Amber Alert, the purpose of the Silver Alert is to instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and safe recovery of the missing adult. The legislation that Senator Schumer is pushing in the Senate, the Silver Alert Act, would authorize the Department of Justice to establish “Silver Alert communications networks,” where states and local governments can disseminate information about the missing citizen to media outlets statewide and beyond. One of the main goals of the legislation is to support these Silver Alert programs and to provide more training and technologies to improve Silver Alert communications across the nation.
Currently, at least 11 states have enacted legislation to create statewide Silver Alert programs. Some of these Silver Alert Programs capture vital personal, medical, caregiver information and a color photograph and prints the information on 2 wallet-sized ID cards and one large ID card. The ID card contains information such as the cardholder’s contact info, caregiver’s contact info and their primary care physician’s contact info. The information is also stored on a secure server for use by emergency responders. Once the National Silver Alert Act is passed, the states that have not yet set up such a system will receive assistance from the federal government to do so, and the states that already have these systems will receive technical and financial assistance to expand their programs and coordinate with other states. This will ensure that if a senior crosses state lines, the neighboring state will be able to quickly obtain and disseminate the information from the home state.
The programs have had success in participating states but more support is needed to expand these victories across the country. Many Alzheimer’s patients can wander great distances by driving. A national system would quickly and publicly alert people across state lines of a missing adult to help boost efforts to locate that person. This program has been proven very effective. In the three months after the program’s inception in Florida, for example, 28 alerts have been issued and all but one person was found alive.
To create an integrated, coordinated network for state, local and federal agencies, Senator Schumer is pushing the National Silver Alert Act to establish a national grant program to help states launch Silver Alert notification systems in their states to locate missing individuals suffering from dementia related illnesses.
The bill would support existing Silver Alert programs that provide these services and encourage states to develop additional Silver Alert plans. The legislation will provide up to $16 million annually for up to 4 years to the Department of Justice to distribute grants to law enforcement agencies for education, training and technology to help locate missing individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s and related illnesses.