‘Silver Alert’ advocated by local rep

Published 6:42 pm Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Imagine an elderly loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease wandering off, missing for hours, and then days. He could be anywhere, and all of the searchers available would never be able to find him until it’s too late.

A program called “Silver Alert,” begun last year in North Carolina, seeks to bring an easy solution to that tragedy. At-risk elderly are given electronic location bracelets, and are found using technology similar to that used by the Global Positioning System (GPS).

Patterned after “Amber Alert,” which issues warnings and advisories when children are missing, the Silver Alert program would use existing electronic message boards seen on interstates and major highways in use by Amber Alert.

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Mary Jo Martin is the Demopolis-area representative from District 67 in the Silver-Haired Legislature of Alabama (SHLA), a body patterned after the Alabama House of Representatives that consists of people ages 60 and over tending to the issues of the elderly from the 105 districts.

Martin is sponsoring a resolution to be voted on by the SHLA to present a bill to the Alabama state legislature to establish a Silver Alert in Alabama.

“We meet in the chambers, where the state House of Representatives meet,” she said of the SHLA. “We meet in Montgomery every October, and then, when the House is in session, we go and lobby.

“I grew up being interested in good things for my grandparents and issues that would help the elderly, and now, I’m there!”

The first SHLA was formed in Missouri in 1973 out of a concern that there was no advocate for legislation for the elderly. Now, 37 states have SHLAs, including Alabama, which formed theirs in 1991, and the first session was held here in 1993.

SHLA representatives are 60 and older and are elected by their peers, often supported by organizations like the Local Area Agency on Aging and the Older Americans Act.

“Out of all of our resolutions, we can pick five senior-issue resolutions and three non-senior resolutions (to bring to the Alabama legislature),” Martin said. “One of our non-senior resolutions will be to move the reappraisal of property from every year back to every four years, because there are seniors that just can’t pay their taxes.”

Martin, the co-chair of the Alabama SHLA’s health committee, wrote up the Silver Alert resolution to go before the SHLA during its annual session on Oct 27-29.

“We’ve had one similar to this in the House before,” she said, “and we got it through the (state) House of Representatives, but it stalled in the Senate.”

Eight states currently have the Silver Alert Notification System, and Martin believes that it will soon become a federal program like its sister program, the Amber Alert.

“They have a band in the Marengo County Lifesavers,” Martin said. “Marengo County has 30. You have to basically fill out an application and have a doctor say that you do suffer from Alzheimer’s or a similar disease. The Pilot Club bought these, and the last I heard, about a month ago, there were six in use. The band is put on the wrist or ankle, and every month, Chief Deputy Tommy Reese changes the batteries. There are 40-something counties out of the 67 in Alabama that has this program.

“If a person is missing, the caretaker would call the sheriff’s office and give them the bracelet ID number, and it would pick up on a transmitter.”

Martin said that there would be no cost for the Silver Alert program to be enacted statewide, since the Amber Alert system billboards and alerts are already in place and the wrist- or anklebands were paid for by the Pilot Club.

Martin encouraged people to contact their state representatives and ask them to pass legislation enacting the Silver Alert Notification System. For Marengo County, that would be State Rep. A.J. McCampbell (D-Demopolis) and State Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro). McCampbell’s local office number is 295-5634, while Singleton’s Montgomery office number is (334) 242-7935.

When an adult loved one with a mentally disabling disease wanders off and is lost, there was a time when driving around aimlessly or a slow foot search was the most likely way to find the person alive. With Silver Alert in place, the chances of finding a lost loved one alive can be improved dramatically.