Op-ed: Silver Alert saves lives

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By Selina Robinson

Aging isn’t always easy. We live in an aging society; questions about what a dignified retirement looks like, and how we care for our elders, are close to the hearts of those caring for their parents, sometimes their spouses, and aging themselves.

As a member of the sandwich generation, I know how hard it is to raise kids, support a parent and work at the same time. The question of how we take care of our parents and grandparents isn’t a hypothetical question; it’s a reality for an increasing number of families.

During the next 20 years we can expect more than 170,000 seniors in our province to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Of those, we can expect most will be cared for at home and 60 per cent of them will wander at some point in their illness.

Unfortunately, when people with these illnesses wander, it can have dire consequences. I can’t imagine anything more tragic than the case of Shin Noh, an elderly man in my community who went for a walk and never came home. Although his family was searching for him, there was no way to convey the message to the larger community that he was missing.

A member of the church where he once was pastor saw him that evening, but he had no way of knowing Noh was lost and wandering. He has yet to be found.

I’ve worked with the Noh family on a proposal that the government should have no trouble supporting: a Silver Alert system for families to report lost loved ones. This successful strategy has been used elsewhere. In the U.S., 41 states have a response system that alerts the community when a person with a cognitive impairment has wandered and is at risk of harm, injury or death. Three more states have legislation pending.

As more people struggle with illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, we need better tools to ensure communities can come together to support seniors in need.

Noh’s family did everything it could to help their father and grandfather live a full, healthy life with Alzheimer’s. They kept him in the family home, where he was surrounded by love and treated with dignity.

Noh isn’t the first senior missing in our province, and he won’t be the last. Thankfully, most instances of lost seniors don’t result in tragedy, but people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s are often at risk of wandering away.

Even though 90 per cent of those who wander can be found within a few kilometres, if they aren’t found quickly, they can suffer serious harm.

As our society ages, we need to work together to improve the support systems in place for senior citizens.

Bringing in a Silver Alert system so friends and neighbours know to watch for one of their beloved elders has no downsides. I’ve introduced a private member’s bill to the legislature calling for the government to take action on this. It would be great to have MLAs from across the province support this small change that could make a big difference.

There would be little if any cost to adding this system to existing alert systems, and if it saved even one family from the sadness and uncertainty faced by the Noh family, it would be priceless.

As Noh’s son said, “the hell we’re going through even right now — not knowing where he is — no other Canadian family should be going through this.”

Selina Robinson is the New Democrat MLA for Coquitlam-Maillardville

This article was originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun: http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/Opinion+Silver+Alert+saves+lives/9660216/story.html