The chief medical correspondent for CBS News had a revealing quote recently about health concerns. Dr. John LaPook said, “The greatest fear my patients express to me is, ‘I think I’m losing my mind.’”
A logical extension of that concern might be those who fear that older family members may be losing full use of their faculties. We have all been touched by a loved one who gradually fails to remember people, places and events we think we could never forget.
The concern is likely amplified by the possibility that, at some point, we may be going through the same thing ourselves. Whether for those we love or for ourselves, we no doubt want as many safeguards as possible in place to prevent a mental lapse from turning into a tragic loss.
In all, 26 states — most recently Maine — have adopted a program called Silver Alert. Its intent is similar to an Amber Alert, which is put into effect when a child is abducted. A Silver Alert can be mobilized in the case of a person with documented dementia who has wandered away.
Across the country, criteria for inclusion in the system vary widely. Some states issue alerts only in cases of seniors over 65 with documented cases of Alzheimer’s disease. In other states, alerts may be issued for any adult with mental or developmental disabilities who goes missing.
Methods of disseminating information also vary. Most states use broadcast and other media to spread the word. Usually such broadcasts limit information to the missing person’s name, description, clothing, and make, model and license number of a vehicle if the person was driving when last seen.
In its just-completed session, the state Legislature enacted a law authorizing a Silver Alert system. The law takes effect in July, and the state Department of Public Safety will be working on putting together an alert system.
Alerts could be issued for persons over 60 with a “clear indication” to local law enforcement of dementia. An alert could also go out if a person between 18 and 59 with impaired mental powers goes missing. A key would be determining that the person involved is at risk if a search is not organized.
The program is not without its critics. Some academics at Miami University of Ohio say policies are being put in place without enough research on wandering. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that more than 60 percent of sufferers will wander “at some point.”
Others fear a Silver Alert program might be overused, de-sensitizing the general public over time. Still others worry about seniors’ privacy should overly personal data be collected in efforts to keep them safe.
Another way to help find lost seniors involves a partnership between MedicAlert and the Alzheimer’s Association. Persons with dementia can wear MedicAlert jewelry listing a 24-hour emergency number. Someone finding the member can call MedicAlert and Safe Return, which notifies caregivers.
The caregiver can also wear the jewelry, so that in case of accident or illness, responders can trigger the system to make sure the at-risk person is taken care of. Kristie Miner, Reflections Program director at Westgate Manor in Bangor, calls the program “a really nice safety net.”
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