You may have seen electronic billboards flashing with Silver Alerts on the roads here in Indiana. It can be frightening for families or individuals who are looking for their loved one. Individuals who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are prone to wandering. This is often caused by the decline in cognitive functioning and symptoms such as restlessness and confusion that are associated with this decline. The more these diseases progress, the more likely it is that the senior will wander. This wandering causes additional stress on family and caregivers. It is important to take measures to keep these individuals safe. There are many ways that caregivers can help to keep seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia safe, as well as national and local Senior Alert programs.
The Senior Alert program was modeled after the Amber Alert program for missing children. A Silver Alert informs the public, media outlets, and law enforcement agencies when an adult goes missing. One criteria for a Silver Alert is age. Usually missing persons age 60 or older, will trigger a Silver Alert. Another criteria that may constitute a Silver Alert is having a cognitive impairment. This would include seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, as well as those with mental retardation or other impairments caused by illness or trauma. Finally, people with physical disabilities who go missing are eligible for a Silver Alert.
The purpose and goal of a Silver Alert is to protect and keep the aforementioned individuals safe. During a Silver Alert, law enforcement agencies will alert the public with information that is vital or necessary in helping to find the missing individual. This may include a picture, vehicle description, last known location, and illness or impairment. It is important to report a missing senior as quickly as possible because statistics show that they have a higher chance of suffering an injury or even death as more time passes.
The best case is to avoid the Silver Alert altogether by taking measures to prevent wandering in seniors who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Being vigilant in ensuring that the senior is not alone is one major way to prevent wandering. It is very important that caregivers are always present and may mean that the person needs more than one caregiver. If wandering has occurred, keep a log of the duration and all events surrounding the wandering to identify patterns associated with the wandering. Establish routines and keep the environment calm to reduce stress for the individual. It can also be helpful to provide entertainment and outings that can reduce frustration and weariness for the senior. Environmental security measures are also necessary. Labeling common rooms in case of disorientation may help to prevent wandering. Secure windows and doors to keep the individual safe. If wandering is a problem, alarm systems can be installed to alert the caregiver if an individual is attempting to leave alone.
If a senior with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia shows the potential for wandering, be sure to keep recent photos and records of appearance. Have the person keep multiple forms of identification on them, including something that is wearable and a part of their everyday routine. Tracking devices are also available to help keep track of the person’s location. It may also be helpful to alert trusted neighbors of possible wandering. These neighbors can alert the caregiver if they see the individual out of the home.
The most important thing to remember is that many senior adults who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia will have the potential to wander as the disease progresses. Silver Alerts are helpful and caregivers should become familiar with the system in their area. However, the best course of action is always prevention. So, caregivers and families should educate themselves on how they can be vigilant in preventing wandering.
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