Silver Bells, Silver Alert: Preventing Tragedy for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s

November 24, 2021

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays are a happy time for many families, bringing love and joy. It can also be a worrisome time if a family member has Alzheimer’s or Dementia. The excitement of the holidays can add to their uncertainty and confusion. These concerns are brought to light in November, which is National Alzheimer’s Disease Month and National Caregivers Appreciation Month.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or Dementia is a daunting task every season of the year. It is accomplished with love, patience, and a little help from our friends. That is why, since 2008, Florida has had the Silver Alert program to locate missing persons suffering from a neurocognitive disorder. The system immediately activates a local or statewide alert if a person with a diagnosed cognitive disorder wanders away.

It is a very real possibility, even if your loved one is cared for in a well-maintained, secure facility. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates 450,000 people in Florida have Alzheimer’s, and experts say 60-70 percent of them will wander at least once during the process of their disease. If your family member becomes one of them, it will be critical to enlist the help of law enforcement immediately after learning of their disappearance: Tragically, only 20 percent will survive if they are missing for more than 72 hours.

There are specific criteria that must be met before an alert will be issued; take the time now to be sure your loved one satisfies them:

  • The missing person must have an irreversible deterioration of intellectual faculties (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia) that has been verified by law enforcement. Be sure you obtain an accurate diagnosis, not just to qualify for Silver Alert but to be sure they are getting proper care. It could be another condition, such as depression, hypothyroidism, or another treatable illness.
  • The person must be 60 years or older. However, they can be 18-59 if law enforcement has determined they cannot consent and that a Local Silver Alert may be the only possible way to rescue the missing person.

How can you tell if your family member is at risk of wandering away? The Silver Alert program offers these warning signs:

  • They want to “go to work” or “go home” if they are already at home.
  • They have trouble locating the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, or another familiar area.
  • Hat/jacket/umbrella/keys located and visible near exit doors.
  • Fear, anxiety, confusion, agitation, which increases in a new or changed environment. (If you are taking them out of their home for a holiday celebration, be extra vigilant.)

Florida Silver Alert also offers strategies for preventing a loved one from wandering away or minimizing the risk:

  • Validate your loved one’s concerns. If they are at home and say they want to go home, assure them that you will take them there soon.
  • Ensure that all their basic needs are being met. For example, if they are not eating enough, it may encourage them to look outside for food.
  • Install soft alarms to alert you that an exterior door has been opened.
  • Install additional locks out of sight, above their reach.
  • Limit fluids before bedtime and ensure your loved one uses the toilet before bedtime. If they have to get up in the middle of the night, they could get confused looking for their room and end up leaving the building.
  • Avoid outings to crowded, noisy locations where they can get confused and uncomfortable.
  • Do not leave them alone in a car or alone at home.
  • Obtain an electronic locater device they can always wear; in case they get lost.

No matter how much you love your family member, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the special needs brought on by Alzheimer’s disease or another cognitive disorder. The best time to get help with the legal and financial issues is even before the onset of Alzheimer’s. Contact OC Estate & Elder Law at (954)251-0332 or for your free phone consultation. Our attorneys are fluent in English, Spanish, and Russian.