The Times West Virginian

Opinion

December 19, 2013

National Silver Alert Act could save lives of adults, seniors who wander

It’s hard to watch ours loved ones age. It’s heartbreaking to watch their mind leave them as they become a shell of the person they once were.

We see the face we have known for many, many years, the hands that held our own, the arms that were once strong enough to lift us. But they don’t remember those days; they don’t remember where they live or how to contact us in case of emergency. They become confused, combative even, as they struggle to find sense in the fog of their own minds.

It’s hard for the caretakers, whether they be spouses, children or grandchildren. But for the past five years in West Virginia, there has been a safety net for these seniors in the event of wandering. The Silver Alert system was put in place in West Virginia in 2009 and coordinates efforts of local law-enforcement agencies to locate a missing senior.

This successful program has the chance to go nationwide if proposed legislation passes.

On Tuesday, U.S. senators from across the country, including Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., introduced the National Silver Alert Act. This piece of legislation could create a nationwide network for locating missing adults and senior citizens.

The National Silver Alert Act would create a federal program that is modeled after the AMBER Alert and provide federal coordination and assistance to local and state law-enforcement agencies, much like the West Virginia program.

While West Virginia has been fortunate enough to have only needed the system a handful of times, it has been successful with returning those individuals home safely.

A strong communication network is critical to first-responders when an adult or senior citizen goes missing, lawmakers say.

“The Silver Alert, which is modeled after a successful West Virginia program, has the potential to greatly improve the way we locate missing adults and seniors by allowing for coordination and support across jurisdictions,” Rockefeller said.

Laurel Kirksey, executive director of Alzheimer’s Association, West Virginia Chapter, said since the Silver Alert has been in place, it has helped with locating missing adults and senior citizens. She said six out of 10 adults with Alzheimer’s disease will wander.

“You want to give people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia their independence but also want to guarantee their safety,” Kirksey said. “Silver Alert legislation helps ensure coordinated efforts by law enforcement to put out immediate action on any adult with cognitive impairment who has wandered.”

We strongly encourage lawmakers support this piece of legislation as we believe the model that has been successful in our own state can save lives across the country.

Those precious minutes and hours after a senior has wandered off, when they are vulnerable to traffic and the elements, cannot be wasted. Large-scale coordination efforts between agencies can bring our loved ones home safe where they belong.

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