July 6, 2007
The number of seniors suffering from dementia is expected to rise, and the majority of those people will wander at some point during the course of their disease. Now, there is a new plan in Virginia to locate missing seniors who may wander into in danger.
The goal of the state's new Senior Alert Program is to get the missing person's photograph and identification out as soon as possible.
State Police say it is important to get law enforcement involved in the process from the beginning.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, in central Virginia alone, more than 40,000 people suffer from dementia; 60% of them will wander.
The Senior Alert Program is similar to an Amber Alert for seniors.
Sergeant David Cooper with the Virginia State Police says, "I feel like this will be a really good tool for law enforcement and helping locate a missing senior quickly."
It went into effect July 1st.
Cheryl Cooper, Chief Operating Officer at the Jefferson Area Board for Aging says, "Anyone on the street could see a photograph on television go out and perhaps run into this individual and perhaps be able to pick them up much sooner."
People who wander may have medical issues or other needs, making finding them a matter of safety.
Cooper says, "It is a significant problem and once someone gets out who knows where they are going to go. Some have no clue where they are going, they just need to be leaving where they are."
State Police say the need for this program is growing.
Sergeant Cooper says, "In the past, we've had people wander where they can get lost and it's not an everyday occurrence, but with people living longer it's probably going to increase."
The alert is activated when a set of criteria are met. Police must first confirm the senior is missing.
The person has to be 60 or older and suffering from cognitive impairment to the point where they cannot take care of themselves without assistance.