New alert geared toward seniors

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A new program was announced by Gov. Mike Beebe on April 6 that will alert law enforcement and the public when an older person goes missing.

Silver Alert, Arkansas' Missing Senior Adult Network, will work much like the state's Morgan Nick Amber Alert System. An Amber Alert informs the public when a child is abducted or reported to law enforcement as missing.

The Silver Alert will be issued when a person with mental or other special conditions is reported missing by a care giver or family member.

According to a release from the Arkansas Sheriff's Association, "A Silver Alert may be activated at the request of a local sheriff or police chief based on confirmed law enforcement reports of missing persons who have been determined by a court to be incapable of managing his or her own personal affairs, such as through a guardianship proceeding; or has a documented diagnosis of a mental illness, injury or condition that causes the individual to be incapable of making a personal care decision; or in cases where a care giver or family member strongly suspects that the person believed missing is afflicted with some form of dementia."

The new program has already been used this month.

April 21, a Silver Alert was issued for a Sebastion County man. According to reports, Billy "Butch" Wheeler, 66, is believed to have walked away from a home in Greenwood, Ark., south of Fort Smith, around 6 a.m. April 21. Police say that Wheeler walks hunched over and suffers from Parkinsons Disease.

Silver Alert is a program of mutual agreement of the Arkansas State Police, Arkansas Sheriffs' Association and Arkansas Chiefs of Police. The Arkansas State Police will host the Silver Alert Web site at

When making the announcement for the new program, Gov. Beebe commended State Rep. Butch Wilkins for leading the effort to establish the program in Arkansas.

According to, one of the freshman legislator's chief reasons for bringing this issue forward has to do with his personal experience as a care giver for his wife, Pat, and his mother-in-law, both Alzheimer's patients. "Pat was diagnosed six years ago, and it just changes your life in every way," Wilkins said. "Silver Alert can help families get information out quickly to reunite them with their loved ones. Part of the alert will be to encourage care givers to keep updated photos and important information around to provide to law enforcement if a situation arises."

According to the Alzheimer's Association, as many as 5.3 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer's. Other statistics say that 10 million baby boomers will develop Alzheimer's in their lifetime and that every 70 seconds, someone develops the disease. Alzheimer's was the sixth-leading cause of death across all ages in the United States in 2006.

The Alzheimer's Association says that 60 percent of people diagnosed with the disease will wander away from their home or care giving facility at some point as the disease progresses. As with a missing child, if the person is not found within a 24-hour period, over half will suffer serious injury or death.

Once an Arkansas Silver Alert is activated, the Arkansas State Police will electronically forward the information and photograph to a Web based distribution list which includes Arkansas broadcast stations and newsrooms who subscribe to the alert notification system.

According to the Arkansas Sheriffs' Association, a state wide training course will be available to law enforcement agencies to help assist them with the new program.

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