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Silver Alert bill to improve care for dementia victims

The recently passed legislation includes new policies related to missing vulnerable adults


According to the National Alzheimer’s Association, six out of 10 persons with the most common form of dementia will wander at some time during the disease’s progression.

Tragically, 46 percent of those not found within a 24-hour period will be found deceased.

Recognizing that need, Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law SB1577A, effective Jan. 1, 2015, requiring all state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies related to missing “vulnerable adults.”

Termed the “Silver Alert” law, the legislation hopes to improve search policies and address communities’ response to “wandering” individuals. The law looks to bring a level of uniformity to a variety of Silver Alert Programs, public safety and health policies for vulnerable adults, and law enforcement’s ever increasing involvement in responding to calls of missing persons with the disease.

For State Rep. Mike McLane, District 55, a cosponsor of the bill, the reasons behind the legislation are personal.

McLane’s father died from Picks Disease, a rare neurodegenerative disease that causes progressive destruction of nerve cells in the brain, in 2007.

“I know from personal experience that sometimes the victims of these diseases know they are lost, but don’t know how to get home,” he said. “Fortunately, my dad lived in Condon, a very small town, where people knew him, and would help him get home or call my mom. Not everyone has the gift of living in a small town.”

Prineville Police Capt. Mike Boyd said that any case of a missing person, especially the elderly, is treated as a serious emergency.

“We are waiting for our association to put together definitive language in response to this new legislation,” he said, adding that the department already has, what he feels, is a very comprehensive missing person policy.

“When we do get a call on a missing elderly person, we mobilize everyone,” he explained. “We take it very seriously and have no reservations putting those calls to a very high response level.”

Boyd gives credit to the county’s senior care facilities and their willingness to alert police quickly.

“Luckily, care facilities in this town are very conscientious and call us early on to begin the process of searching,” he said. “This allows us to typically find people in a very short time.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that 125,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease, or a related condition, leave the safety of their home and family and are unable to find their way back.

The bureau believes that those with the condition often cannot ask for, or even may not recognize, that they need help. While other missing persons, such as children, hunters, or hikers may try to assist authorities looking for them, people with Alzheimer’s disease might actively and unconsciously attempt not to be found by searchers.

In his book “Lost Person Behavior: A Search and Rescue Guide on Where to Look,” Robert Koester, a member of Appalachian Search & Rescue, estimates that the average search-and-rescue operation for a victim of Alzheimer’s disease takes nine hours, costing approximately $1,500 per hour.

Since 2001, the Crook County Sheriff Search and Rescue team has had technology in place that can reduce that search time to less than 30 minutes.

Project Lifesaver uses state of the art radio transmitter bracelets to assist caregivers, and local emergency agencies, in locating those who cannot help themselves. In the event that a person wearing a transmitter is lost, the caregiver calls 911 and CCSSAR responds, using a mobile locator system to track the signal of the lost individual.

Crook County Undersheriff John Gautney said that there are currently two clients signed up in the Lifesaver program, and that there is no cost to sign up a vulnerable family member.

“We will send someone out to gather information and to meet with the person,” said Gautney, adding that the person would then be fitted with an emergency bracelet, much like the Medic Alert system.

The number of vulnerable adults that will potentially be helped by the new legislation is projected to grow significantly.

According to ALZ, the State of Oregon has 59,000 residents, over the age of 65, that suffer from some form of Alzheimer’s — and they expect that number to increase by 42 percent, to 84,000, by 2025.

Oregon joins a growing number of states requiring formal procedures to address the issue.

Thirty two states have a Silver Alert program, 23 others have alternative missing persons recovery programs, nine states have programs to help locate missing seniors that contains criteria similar to existing Silver Alert programs and 10 others have missing persons alert systems with broader criteria than conventional Silver Alert programs.

Kathleen Cody, executive director for the Alzheimer’s Association Oregon Chapter, says the new law will help protect the 60 percent of people with Alzheimer’s who wander.

“People with Alzheimer’s may not remember their name or address, and they can become easily disoriented, even in familiar places,” said Cody. “If a person with Alzheimer’s wanders and is not found within 24 hours, there is a 60 percent chance that person will die or suffer serious injury. The risk of death increases to 80 percent if the person is not found with 72 hours.”

McLane agreed.

“The Amber Alert system has become an effective way to let a community know quickly, through text alerts and announcements, that there is a missing child, so that all eyes are open to returning that child home,” he said. “The Silver Alert is designed to be a similar response and to assist law enforcement and family in locating those that are lost.”



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