EL PASO — An elderly Hispanic woman slowly crosses a busy street. Taking fragile steps, she finally is able to cross the street so oncoming cars can pass through. Confused and scared she flags down one of the cars and asks for assistance. The woman only speaks Spanish and the driver only speaks English. The driver finally grasps one word “police.”
Some elderly persons affected with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia tend to wonder away from homes or retirement facilities. To improve safety for these people, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) developed a new vigilance system in Texas called the Texas Silver Alert.
Using this system, which was passed by the Texas Senate and House in May 2007, the Texas DPS will be able to send a message similar to an Amber Alert to all law enforcement agencies and the media. Before an alert is posted, the Texas Representative Pickett Local law enforcement agencies are required to engage the family or legal guardian of the missing senior citizen to provide documentation of the person’s impaired condition.
According to the Texas DPS, the situation must meets the following criteria: The missing persons must be 65 years of age or older and residents of Texas, they must have a diagnosed impaired mental condition and the senior citizen’s disappearance must pose a credible threat to his or her own health and safety. The request must be made within 72 hours of the senior citizen’s disappearance. Sufficient information must be made available to disseminate so the public can assist in locating the senior citizen.
Many retirement facilities follow certain protocols when keeping in contact with their patients and or residents.
“We have a specific code for that. We ran one this morning as a matter of fact,” said Glena McMullen, assistant director at Mountain View Healthcare. “Each nurse is responsible for their hall check. We count for each and every resident; we go room-by-room, bathrooms, and auxiliary areas like the laundry and kitchen areas. To go through our check we were completed with the whole building within five-six minutes and we have about 156 residents in our facility.”
A person cannot be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease until after death. About 90% of residents have dementia within their facility. Since the Silver Alert was developed there has only been one incident in El Paso of missing elderly people. “It’s not very common to receive reports of missing elderly people,” said police spokesman Chris Mears. “We had only one that was technically a Silver Alert, it was last week and it helped us find the person within a couple of hours.”
Since not every elderly person lives in a retirement facility and is instead cared for by family members and or an at-home nurse, the Silver Alert provides some comfort to families living with an elderly relative suffering from dementia.
Benjamin Martinez and his family discovered that their grandmother Nellie Martinez, 68, showed symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease last year. “This has been my first experience with the disease and for the most part it’s been a little rough but it’s mostly to do with the reaction of my dad,” said Martinez, 18. “I’ve never been able to see my mom or dad go through something emotionally, and when I do, I become weak and I have broken down in the past. So this time around I hope my dad goes through this I can be strong enough to pick him up and put him on his feet again.”
Martinez’s grandfather Ramon Martinez Jr., 72, takes care of his wife with help from family members. “When we are with her we usually try to help her remember who everybody is,” said Martinez. “Fortunately, when she sees someone she knows who they are, but if she doesn’t physically see a person we are talking about, then she doesn’t remember who that person is.”
“Emotionally we mostly stick together as a group and handle the situation all together,” said Martinez.