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Safety for Parents with Dementia: What is a Silver Alert

elderly man with walking stick stand on footpath sidewalk

Almost everyone in the United States is familiar with the Amber Alert — the special alert issued when a child goes missing. It was designed to mobilize the entire community in the key few moments after a child goes missing, while they are easiest to find.

Fewer people are aware of something similar that’s available for when people with dementia go missing: the Silver Alert (though the name varies by state).

Having a family member go missing is easily one of the scariest moments in a person’s life. And, while a small child walking around alone would obviously appear to be in trouble, and would likely get help from a bystander, people do not necessarily assume that an elderly person may be in similar need of help.

The Silver Alert was first introduced in 2005 in the state of Oklahoma. It’s worth mentioning that, like Amber Alerts, these initiatives are implemented on the state level. In Illinois, the Silver Alert is known more generally as the Endangered Missing Person Advisory.

Illinois Silver Search Program

In addition to that, Illinois has the Silver Search program, which integrates a number of different state offices in a task force to help with finding a missing person over a long-term search, if need be to assist:

  • Illinois State Police
  • Illinois Tollway Authority
  • Alzheimer’s Association
  • Illinois Broadcasters Association
  • Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police
  • Illinois Department of Aging
  • Illinois Department of Transportation
  • AARP
  • Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board
  • Illinois Secretary of State
  • Illinois Lottery

Silver Search is a coordinated effort to bring awareness, education, and resources to help find and safely return people with Alzheimer’s or dementia that go missing.

The circumstances that would result in a Silver Search are listed below:

  • The person is missing under unexplained or suspicious circumstances.
  • The person is believed to be in danger because of age, health, mental or physical disability, environment, weather conditions, or in the company of a potentially dangerous person or some other factor that may expose the person to possible harm or injury.
  • Public information is available that could assist in the safe recovery of the person.
  • The circumstances do not fit the criteria of an AMBER Alert.

Tips on Keeping A Person with Dementia Safe and In a Known Location

Of course, while a Silver Search can be very effective, we all hope never to have to utilize these state services in the first place. Here are a few tips for those who have a loved one with dementia on how to keep tabs on them:

  1. Don’t wait! If your loved one is missing and you’ve checked all the places you expect them to be, get in touch with the police sooner rather than later. Sometimes, organizing a search earlier rather than later can have significantly better results.
  2. Always have a recent picture of your loved one with you, in case you have to show it to people or send it to the police. In our age of mobile phones, this is a lot easier to do and almost a no-brainer.
  3. If you find that your loved one frequently wanders or if this is a concern of yours, consider using some kind of tracking device. If they have a mobile phone, you could activate an app like “Find my iPhone”. Alternatively, tracking devices exist that can be attached to a set of keys, or even worn as a bracelet that can help you find your loved one.

For more tips on keeping your parent with dementia safe, check out our guide: Safety Starts At Home: A Guide For Dementia Parents And Their Caretakers.

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