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Amber Alerts sought for seniors

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lawmakers across the country are looking at different types of legislation supporting Amber Alerts for seniors. Indiana State Representative William Ruppel, introduced a bill in the Indiana Legislature in 2005 to allow police to issue "senior medical alerts" as soon as guardian or caretakers report that a missing person is a senior citizen.

Bills to create a more rapid missing person alert and response system for seniors are often compared to the Amber Alerts system for missing children which enables law enforcement officials and broadcasters to work together to quickly issue missing persons alerts about children without the usual 24-hour waiting period.

Indiana can issue Senior Alerts for persons, age 65 or older, who are missing and believed to be incapable of returning to their residence without assistance.

"When senior citizens are missing, families and police shouldn't have to wait 24 hours to take action. Sometimes that is too long and you might lose the senior," Ruppel said.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, the first 24 hours a person is missing is considered critical as 50 percent of the elderly who are lost either sustain serious injuries or die the first day

"Approximately 5.1 million people in the United States suffer some form of dementia and sixty percent of those will wander away from their homes or care facilities," reports Monica Moreno, Associate Director of Safety Services for the Alzheimer's Association.

According to Moreno those affected with Alzheimer's or dementia wander around a town or rural area and often don't respond to others because they regress to childhood.

Putnam County Senior Center Director Jim Stevens has received information about setting up a countywide alert system, which requires the coordination of many people including specially trained fire and police.

"Someone came and talked with me about it and were going to talk with all the people involved but I haven't heard anything back from them," stated Stevens.

Texas has created a system called Silver Alert which complements existing programs for people with dementia, including Project Lifesaver International, which features personalized wristbands that emit tracking signals. When a caregiver notifies the local program that an elderly person is missing, a search and rescue team uses a GPS-enabled mobile tracking system to find the person. Recovery time averages 30 minutes.

But, again specially trained individuals have to be in place for the program to work and Putnam County residents do not currently participate in Project Lifesaver.

The Putnam County Sheriff office treats a missing senior as a regular missing person without the 24-hour wait.

Many states don't yet offer that assistance and families and caretakers are forced to wait a full day before a search is instigated.

There are other programs available to family members who have concerns about wandering seniors. The Alzheimer Association's Safe Return program is a national identification database for people with Alzheimer's. Special pendants, bracelets, clothing labels, lapel pins and bag tags may be used to specify a person belongs to the program.

Anyone who finds an elderly person wandering the streets can call the Safe Return toll-free number listed on the card, bracelet, etc. and the operator will alert family members or caregivers listed in the database.

Since its inception in 1993, nearly 100,000 people have registered with Safe Return.

Information about the Safe Return program is available at www.alz.org

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