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Missing Seniors Return Home

About 60 percent of the estimated 5.1 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease will wander from home sometime in their life. About 70 percent of the wanderers will do so repeatedly.

In fact, about 127,000 critical wandering incidents happen each year, the Alzheimer’s Association reports. It’s a frightening reality, as persons with Alzheimer’s can get lost even in their own neighborhood. And many are unable to ask for help or provide their name or address to those who might offer help. As such, they’re highly vulnerable. If not found within 24 hours, up to half of wanderers with dementia risk serious injury or death.

Since 1993, one solution to this terrible situation has been provided through a collaboration of the Department of Justice, the Alzheimer’s Association and local law enforcement agencies: the Safe Return® program. A nationwide database and emergency response system, Safe Return has been successful in finding and returning more than 8,000 individuals, about 99 percent of the registered people who have wandered and become lost. That compares to a return rate of less than 50 percent of lost individuals not enrolled in the program. Eighty-eight percent of the 8,000 were found within four hours.

Silver Alert Systems

Several states have expanded upon the Amber Alert system for missing children. They have created a “Silver Alert” (http://nationalsilveralert.org) to locate, in the early, critical hours, vulnerable senior citizens who go missing. Like the Amber Alert, the Silver Alert notifies law enforcement authorities, activating urgent bulletins and using the Emergency Alert System.

In March 2009, The National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities (NASUAD) released a report that identified states that have a Silver Alert program, how they fund it, and how each administers the program. The report revealed that 18 states have a Silver Alert program (including Arizona), 14 states had pending legislation, and 18 states did not have legislation.

New federal legislation was filed on April 24, 2008 to help more states set up Silver Alert systems. The bill, the Silver Alert Grant Program Act of 2008, was prompted by the death of an elderly Florida woman who had gone missing after signing out of her assisted living residence.


Helpful Information in an Emergency

To assist law enforcement in the event a loved one wanders off, the Alzheimer’s Association suggests:

• Identifying dangerous areas near your home, such as bodies of water, open stairwells, dense foliage, tunnels, bus stops and roads with heavy traffic.

• Sharing whether the individual is right- or left-handed, as persons with dementia often wander in the direction of their dominant hand.

• Keeping a list of places the person may wander to, such as past jobs, former homes or a church or restaurant.

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. FBN


About Comfort Keepers

Cindy Harris is the owner of Comfort Keepers. With over 560 independently owned and operated locations, Comfort Keepers is a leader in in-home senior care to promote independent living.

Flagstaff: 928-774-0888, 214 N. Sitgreaves St., Flagstaff, AZ


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