Several Midlands law enforcement agencies recently joined together to announce their intent to issue public alerts to find missing seniors. Called Silver Alerts, the bulletins will be similar to the familiar Amber Alerts for missing children.
Some differences will remain, as federal law limits the use of message boards on interstate highways. Pending federal legislation may provide grants for more agencies to adopt Silver Alerts, but currently the programs are locally funded. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, the head of the state Office on Aging, told the media he would seek state funds if needed.
Nationwide, the incidence of adults wandering away from their caregivers is increasing as the population ages and more adults fall victim to Alzheimer’s disease. The South Carolina Alzheimer’s Association estimates there are 70,000 adults in South Carolina living with the disease and suggests that 60% will wander from their caregivers over the course of the disease. The increase in missing seniors has begun to impact the operations of law enforcement agencies in both operations and policy. Law enforcement agencies must wrestle with the difficult balance between privacy of an adult and the adult’s safety. Operationally, a full-scale search can occupy all available officers for hours or days while the adult is missing.
In Richland, Aiken, Horry, and Charleston counties, residents with an at-risk family member have another option. These counties have agencies participating in Project Lifesaver, a national non-profit organization that provides small tracking devices to participants, who include those with Alzheimer’s disease and autistic adults and children. Enrolled participants wear a tracking device on a wristband that can be located by local law enforcement using special radio tracking equipment. Caregivers initiate a search by calling the local agency. Nationally, the program reports it has been used over 1500 times with no serious injuries to missing participants and with an average search time of less than 30 minutes. The main drawbacks to this program are the costs of the equipment and the need for monthly maintenance and battery changes by program staff.
Thanks to The State, RCSD, and Project Lifesaver for reporting.