A number of years ago, I lived in a gated community on Long Island. Several doors down, there was an elderly gentleman who resided with his son, his son's wife and their children. Late in life, this gentleman developed Alzheimer's and the community couldn't help but observe this young couple's daily challenge to care for him and their struggle to keep him safe.
Several years later, he passed away. But before his death, we all saw the disease progress to a point where it was practically impossible to keep him from wandering. His loved ones did everything in their power to keep him in sight but still, several times a month, this senior managed to leave his house unnoticed. Invariably, he would end up walking out of the complex and onto the shoulder of a very heavily traveled road. The term "speed limit" was apparently foreign to some of the drivers and it was an incredibly dangerous situation for anyone let alone a confused elderly man.
I can still remember the children's fear upon learning that their dad had, once again, gone missing. Upon their discovery, they were legitimately frightened to death, and hysterically inquiring of everyone about their father's whereabouts. Luckily, there was a happy ending to each of these occurrences.
Those were the days before the Silver Alert.
A couple of years ago, piggybacking on the success of the Amber Alert, that immediately notifies media about the disappearance of a child, came the Silver Alert. At the time of this writing, more than half of the United States have implemented this program or some variation that might include those with special needs or emotional disorders.
As we all know, the elderly are the fastest growing demographic in America. Alzheimer's, Dementia or other cognitive disorders are likely to affect a certain percentage of them. With a diagnosis of mental impairment, wandering from home or a health care facility becomes a very real possibility. It is crucial that these seniors be found in the first 24 hours, otherwise they might suffer from serious harm or worse. They may be dressed inappropriately for the weather, be without food, drink or medications or fall prey to unscrupulous individuals.
The Silver Alert immediately puts out media bulletins, posts information on highway signs and alerts hospitals and police departments. It's an excellent program that appears to be working as many elderly have been found and caregivers and family members have found some semblance of peace of mind under the most trying of circumstances.
The so called "retirement" belt from N. Carolina and Virginia to Florida has implemented the Silver Alert. Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island have done so, as well. For free registry, go to www.nationalsilveralert.org and sign up those in your care who are at risk of becoming disoriented. It provides a place to store important personal information which can be easily accessed in case of an emergency.
disoriented elderly woman picture courtesy of cybernetiks2's photostream via Flickr.com creative commons watch for senior citizens sign courtesy of Ethan Prater's photostream via Flickr.com creative commons