By Ramona du Houx

April 29, 2010

Rep. Rotundo (center left) discusses the importance of the new “Silver Alert” legislation to ensure the safety of people with dementia as Governor John Baldacci prepares to ceremonially sign the bill into law. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Gov. John Baldacci ceremonially signed legislation on April 29, 2010, establishing a Silver Alert Program, sponsored by Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, to set-up a statewide alert for missing adults with dementia or developmental disabilities. The program is modeled after the Amber Alert system for abducted children.

“It is so important that Maine has taken this step,” said Rotundo. “The Silver Alert Program protects some of our most vulnerable citizens and their families, who we’ve seen suffer in several cases in recent years.”

According to Kathryn Pears, director of programs, public policy and public relations at the Maine Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, six out of 10 people with dementia will wander at some point in the illness and, if not found within 24 hours, 50 percent of wanderers will die or suffer serious injury.

“Mobilizing the eyes and ears of the public via the Silver Alert will provide an additional resource to law enforcement in their search. It will be especially important to recovering people who wander away in a vehicle and who can cover long distances in a short period of time,” said Pears. “I have no doubt that this will increase the odds of a safe recovery and happy outcome.”

Last year, there were three high profile cases where Maine residents suffering from dementia and cognitive impairments went missing and in one instance resulted in the death of Auburn resident Bill Young.

“The passage of the Silver Alert bill is a blessing,” said Claire Young, Bill Young’s widow. “It will show families that help is there to assist them in locating their loved ones afflicted with this disease.”

The law requires the Department of Public Safety to develop a Silver Alert Program for missing senior citizens in cooperation with the Department of Transportation, the Maine Turnpike Authority, the Office of the Governor, representatives of broadcast groups and law enforcement agencies.

The Silver Alert Program must include standards of procedure for receiving reports and activating a Silver Alert at the appropriate local or statewide level and requires a plan for alerting the public through the media and highway message signs. The legislation also institutes a mandatory orientation and training in missing persons with dementia for law enforcement to create consistency across state and local agencies.

“Bill Young’s tragedy has become a catalyst for positive change,” said Phil Crowell, chief of police of the Auburn Police Department. “Silver Alert will be a tool for law enforcement and the community to spring into action to do everything possible to find their loved one.”

Several public safety and community advocacy groups worked with Rep. Rotundo, Sen. Deborah Simpson, D-Auburn, and Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, to build consensus for the new law. Key groups included the Maine Press Association, the Maine Broadcasters Association, the Maine Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, the Maine Sheriff’s Association, the Auburn Police Department, the Public Safety Department, Legal Services for the Elderly and the Maine State Police.