It's an alarming fact. More than five million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer's disease. What's even more alarming is that 60 percent of them will likely wander off at some point in their lives. But, thanks to a brand new program in Wisconsin, law enforcement is now better prepared to help find your loved one when and if that happens.
The Silver Alert Program is specifically designed to cut down on the amount of time it takes law enforcement to find your loved one.
The way the program works is very similar to an Amber Alert. It enables police throughout the state to use the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network to send notices when a senior citizen goes missing.
Tasha Beestman is the Community Outreach Specialist for the Alzheimer's Association in Wausau. She says for many Alzheimer's patients it's a matter of when not if they'll wander off.
"They could get lost on their way home from the grocery store. They may forget where they're actually going," Beestman said. "That just puts them at greater risk for, well, not coming home."
At the Portage County Sheriff's Department dispatchers get hundreds , if not thousands, of calls reporting people wandering off every year. Deputy Travis Levandowski says cases involving elderly suffering from Dementia or Alzheimer's are particularly difficult.
"When somebody goes missing, it's hard for us to find square one and try to locate them," Levandowski explained. "What this is going to be able to let us do is take away just from the law enforcement officers that are out there and it's going to let the community know in a quick hurry."
In Portage County the Silver Alert Program will work in conjunction with Project Lifesaver. Project Lifesaver is a program that uses GPS like devices to help locate missing people with cognitive issues. Levandowski hopes the Silver Alert will help make up for some of Project Lifesaver's shortcomings.
"If there's more than that thirty minute period when they were last seen, our equiptment only travels so far so if we can get this information out to somebody and they say we spotted him, or that person an hour ago in an area it gives us a staring point."
The real benefit of the Silver Alert Program is that it alerts more people and gets more eyes out on the street, increasing the likelihood the missing person will be found.
In these situations time is of the essence. Levandowski wants to remind everyone to call 911 immediately when a senior citizen or someone with cognitive issues goes missing.
In order to receive the Silver Alerts, you have to sign up for the service at wisconsincrimealert.com.
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