Addie wanted to work. She’d worked at various jobs through her life, and had been responsible for raising children, caring for elderly parents, helping with grandchildren, and homemaking, often while holding down a full time job. She had never worked as a security guard before, but she was willing to give it a try because she was a people person and she could be around people.
The day was like any other. She finished her shift and drifted with the sea of other employees who had wrapped up their shifts and were headed to the parking lot. She got into her car, put the key in the ignition and began to drive through the parking lot. How was she supposed to get out of here? She braked, and stopped. She looked around and felt fingers of fear clutching at her. Where was she? Why didn’t she recognize this place? Where was she supposed to go? Where were the other cars going? If she followed them maybe she could figure out how to get home.
She drove onto the highway and began to recognize landmarks she’d seen for many years. The mental veil that had blinded her seemed to be lifting. She was relieved when she arrived back home and parked the car on the street.
“I got lost in the parking lot at work,” she told her husband. She didn’t tell him how scared she had been. She didn’t say she was afraid to leave the house again. She didn’t have to. He was afraid for her. Not long after the episode Addie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).
For anyone who has or is caring for a loved one with AD or other memory-impairing condition the threat to the safety of this person is all too real. It isn’t that anyone wants to restrict the individual’s activities. Safety is at issue. Images of Mom, Dad or a spouse being lost among strangers in a violent world is worrisome. They are vulnerable to being victimized by predators and exposure to nature’s elements. They can become lost and even die alone, afraid and too soon.
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates there are more than five million Americans who have AD, and expects that number to triple by 2050. Some 220,000 Ohioans are affected by AD.
Project Lifesaver, a rapid response program aiding victims and families suffering from AD and related disorders such as Down Syndrome and Autism, advises, “A lost person with Alzheimer’s or other dementia represents a critical emergency. They are unaware of their situation, they do not call out for help and do not respond to people calling out to them. Nearly half of them will die and many can become injured or fall victim to predators if they are not located within 24 hours.” A dramatic rise in these risks is anticipated.
In Ohio, Gov. Ted Strickland signed the Silver Alert system into effect in March. As soon as an elderly person unable to take care of himself or herself goes missing notification is dispatched to emergency agencies, radio, television and newspapers.
In New York state, the Omnibus Alzheimer’s Services Act of 2008 was in process of being passed into law, establishing the Silver Alert system and authorizing the Office on Aging to train law enforcement personnel in cognitively impaired issues.
Last month, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas urged that the Silver Alert go national. The Texas program begun in 2007, has issued 36 Silver Alerts. Three of the missing were found dead.
“While a handful of states have shown how successful a Silver Alert can be,” Doggett said, our seniors do not go missing in just a handful of states.” A national program, he said, would authorize $10 million in grants for states that choose to participate to develop and run their programs, and it would create a Silver Alert coordinator in the U.S. Justice Department.
The Silver Alert program gets the word out immediately, and in many instances, sees the missing person returned to the safety of home with the people who love them and worry about them. Does your state have the Silver Alert program in effect?