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Silver Alert to aid in search tied to dementia; Protocol uses media to find missing person

A system to find missing adults with dementia, modeled after a similar system for children, took effect Monday in Erie County, officials announced.

The Silver Alert system provides a standard protocol for law enforcement agencies and others to follow, particularly in distributing information to the media, if someone with dementia is reported missing.

The announcement coincided with an actual report of an 86-year-old woman who wandered off Monday morning in Clarence and was located within three hours, according to the Erie County Sheriff's Office.

County officials in 2010 voted to set up a system to let police agencies turn to radio and television stations and other forms of communication to seek the public's help in finding adults who cannot be located. It's modeled after the "Amber Alerts" that help locate abducted children.

Without a federal or statewide alert system, local governments are establishing Silver Alerts for adults with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Other municipalities with similar programs include New York City and Niagara County.

"Wandering is a distinct crisis [here] because of our poor weather," said Legislator Edward A. Rath III, R-Amherst, primary sponsor of the bill in Erie County.

The system here calls on the Sheriff's Office to issue an alert when a local law enforcement agency determines that the disappearance of a county resident with Alzheimer's disease, dementia or a related cognitive disorder poses a credible threat of death or serious injury to the person, and it's believed that an emergency alert would help find them.

A Silver Alert will include the missing person's name, age, physical description and last location where seen. Residents are asked to call 911 if they believe an adult with dementia is missing.

Rath, who began pushing for the system last year following the report of a missing Amherst man who was later found, said there have been three deaths in the past three years attributed to adults with dementia who wandered from their homes or senior facilities.

There are an estimated 32,000 people in the county with dementia, and an estimated 60 percent will wander from their homes or become lost, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

"This disease steals your ability to know where you are and how to get home," said Leilani Joven Pelletier, executive director of the Western New York chapter, which helped write the guidelines for the system.

Legislation was passed this year by the Senate and Assembly in Albany, calling for a similar effort statewide to be called the Gold Alert system. The bill still must be signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo if it is to become law.

e-mail: hdavis@buffnews.com

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