States consider ‘Silver Alerts’ for missing adults

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MONTVILLE, Conn. — Several states and Congress are considering alert systems to notify the public when a cognitively impaired adult goes missing or wanders away. Called “Silver Alerts,” they are modeled on the Amber Alerts issued to prompt widesprea

MONTVILLE, Conn. — Several states and Congress are considering alert systems to notify the public when a cognitively impaired adult goes missing or wanders away. Called "Silver Alerts," they are modeled on the Amber Alerts issued to prompt widespread publicity about missing children. As baby boomers age and dementia diagnoses are skyrocketing, 15 states have adopted Silver Alert systems. Lawmakers in several others — including New Hampshire, Tennessee and Wisconsin — are considering them. Connecticut’s state Senate approved a bill Thursday to set up such a system, sending it to the state House for a vote. On the same day, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed his state’s Silver Alert program into law. A measure to set up a national Silver Alert system also has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and awaits Senate action. Supporters say the goal is simple: spreading the word as quickly and widely as possible when an impaired adult wanders away so they can be returned to safety. In many states, it involves flashing the person’s face on electronic billboards; working with broadcasters to spread the person’s description; and posting messages on highway traffic-incident signs and state lottery ticket terminals. The Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association says 5.3 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease, including 5.1 million of them ages 65 and older. And with baby boomers aging, they say, there’s a new case about every 70 seconds. About six of every 10 Alzheimer’s and dementia patients will wander away from their caregivers at least once, with only limited mental ability to explain their predicament to strangers or find their way home. "The biggest thing is that to find somebody, it takes bodies, people — and there’s not always enough law enforcement to do that. This recruits so many extra sets of eyes," said Herbert Hicks, of Montville, Conn., who testified before state lawmakers this year for the proposal. For Hicks and millions of other caretakers nationwide, the issue goes beyond statistics. Frontal lobe dementia transformed his wife, Betty, in less than three years from a savvy bank executive to a restless woman who talked plaintively of wanting to "go home," though she was sitting at her own kitchen table. She died in April at age 68. ______ Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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