National Silver Alerts for missing persons with dementia could save lives

Recent cases in Victoria, where the missing person died, fuels support for such a system

Canada currently has no national approach for alerting the public about vulnerable missing adults such as local Saanich man Giles Bixler. The 84-year-old was found alive Thursday Oct. 24, approximately one day later and 15 km from where he was last seen. Some advocates say Canada should adopt a Silver Alerts system similar to that used in the U.S.

Support for a national system has been building over the last decade. Such a system would be similar to the Amber Alert system but for missing and vulnerable adults, particularly seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The idea is to involve as many community members as possible so vulnerable missing seniors can be located more quickly.

READ MORE: UPDATED: Missing 84-year-old Saanich man with Alzheimer’s found in Esquimalt

Advocates for this kind of system, such as Silver Alert Canada and BC Silver Alert, say wandering is a common risk for people living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Around 60 per cent of those affected by these diseases will wander at least once during their affliction.

They may wander because they forget how to get home or where they live, the might believe they are their younger selves heading to a workplace or home from their past, or disappear into densely populated urban areas. They may not even be aware they’re lost.

READ ALSO: New web tool aims to enlist Canadians to help find missing kids

In February, the federal government said it was working on a national dementia strategy because seniors are the fastest-growing population group in Canada and the number of searches for missing persons living with dementia are expected to increase significantly.

Canada has a National Public Alerting System (NPAS), known as AlertReady, that gives emergency management organizations across Canada the ability to quickly warn the public of imminent or ongoing hazards (such as tsunamis or chemical spills) through radio, T.V., email, text or smartphone alerts.

Emergency management is a responsibility shared by federal, provincial and territorial governments, so each jurisdiction is responsible for issuing alerts through the NPAS. In most provinces or territories, alerts about missing senior citizens aren’t broadcast over the NPAS, but Amber Alerts and other civil emergencies are.

In 2017, Manitoba and Alberta amended their Missing Persons Amendment Act to introduce a Silver Alert program, allowing them to broadcast such alerts over the NPAS.

There is no B.C. approach to Silver Alerts and there are limited options for residents. The BC Silver Alert social media tool was created in September 2014 for residents of the Lower Mainland. For residents outside this area, checking local news and the website for local police are currently the best options available.

sophie.heizer@saanichnews.com


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