By Summer L. Holleyman
(LIN) According to a recent study conducted by the University of Florida, fewer than 4 percent of memory-impaired adults who wander away from home are able to return without assistance.
Meredith Rowe, an associate professor at the university's College of Nursing said, "Law enforcement agencies often delay activating a search for missing adults because they assume the adults will return home on their own."
Rep. Fred Perry, R-Tulsa, would like to incorporate a "Silver Alert" for senior citizens into the state's "Amber Alert" system to better enable law enforcement and the media to respond quickly should a senior citizen wander and not return.
"Many senior citizens are at risk due to dementia or Alzheimer's disease," Perry said. "All of us have heard about tragedies that have occurred when an elderly person has wandered away from home or a convalescent center and later died due to exposure."
Perry said he intends to amend the "Amber Alert" law to include the "Silver Alert" plan, which would call for law enforcement, fire department personnel, EMS personnel, volunteers and the general public to be informed as soon as possible when a senior citizen disappears.
Currently, the "Amber Alert" program uses the Emergency Alert System to air a description of the abducted child and the suspected abductor. Created in 1997 in response to the kidnapping and murder of 9-year old Amber Hagerman, the plan creates a voluntary partnership between law enforcement agencies and broadcasters to activate a statewide notification bulletin in serious child-abduction cases.
Mark Fried, director of the Oklahoma Alzheimer's Association, said a "Silver Alert" system would be beneficial to the elderly population of Oklahoma and their family members. "Dementia patients will wander away from home from time to time," Fried said. "This 'wandering' is more common than we would want."
The OAA participates in the National Alzheimer's Association's "Safe Return" program, which assists law enforcement in finding memory-impaired adults who have wandered away from their homes or convalescent facilities. Family members can contact the Alzheimer's Association to enroll an elderly person in the program. Once enrolled, the individual is given an identification bracelet with contact information so that law enforcement can notify the correct people once the individual is found.
"The 'Silver Alert' system sounds like it could be a very nice sister program to work with what we're doing with 'Safe Return,' " said Fried.
Local administrators in assisted living facilities also feel that Rep. Perry's proposed legislation will be beneficial.
"We had a dementia patient who would run away quite frequently. We had to make pictures and call the police but we didn't have a statewide system that would have gotten the information out to the general public," said Melanie Turner, an administrator at the Forest Glade Retirement Community.
Lisa Cline, an administrator at the Wellingon Retirement Community, agrees.
"I think this legislation will be helpful," she said. "When dealing with dementia patients, it's very easy for them to get lost. Anything we can do to help our seniors remain safe is a wonderful thing."
Dorothy Cassel, vice-president of the Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature, would like to see "Silver Alert" legislation implemented for personal reasons.
"Several years ago, I had an uncle in a nursing home. He had dementia and one day he just walked out and was missing for several days. We finally found him frozen to death in a field," said Cassel. "I believe if we had a system similar to Amber Alert we could immediately notify law enforcement when an elderly person suffering from memory problems goes missing. It would greatly improve our ability to find our seniors, and I don't think it would be very expensive or hard to implement since we already have Amber Alert."
While details for the legislation have not been worked out, Perry said research currently is being conducted to determine the best means of implementation. "Right now it's in the development stage," the lawmaker said. "We need to look at implementation by talking to law enforcement, EMSA and the fire department."
Perry also said criteria needs to be established for using the "Silver Alert" just as certain criteria must be met when putting out an Amber Alert. "I would imagine it would have to be someone who has a history of Alzheimer's or dementia," Perry said. "The Silver Alert wouldn't be used just because someone is a senior citizen and no one can find them."
Perry said he has asked that a bill be drafted and a number has been set aside but the legislation is still in the concept phase.