Casey: 'Silver Alert' needed to protect seniors with dementia

02.03.14 | Bob Price

The Amber Alert system helps find missing children, and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey wants a similar safeguard for another vulnerable population: seniors.

Mr. Casey, who sits on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, said the issue of seniors suffering from dementia who wander off is a growing problem as Americans age and more seniors are cared for at home. He held a news conference Friday at United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania's West Scranton Senior Center to discuss creating a "Silver Alert," which would inform law enforcement and the public when a senior goes missing.

The problem is likely to grow.

By 2025, the Alzheimer's Association of America estimates about 280,000 Pennsylvanians will suffer from some form of dementia, Mr. Casey said. It is estimated that 6 in 10 will "wander," putting themselves at risk until they are found.

"Our region, our commonwealth and our country owe so much to the people in this room," he said, crediting the generation with helping create the middle class.

Laurie Fleming, manager of the West Side Senior Center, shared several anecdotes about people she knows who could have been helped by such a system. She mentioned a local man who went to mail a letter and drove to Binghamton, abandoned his car walked around. He was found safe.

Another man walked from Scranton to Newton Twp. and was found by someone who activated the "In Case of Emergency" app on his cellphone, which helped the good Samaritan reunite the man with his family.

And in 2012, a 62-year-old city woman was missing for about three weeks before a work crew found her body in a ravine several blocks from her home.

Edward Sporko, 91, heard the presentation and said Mr. Casey's proposal makes sense. He recalled a friend who declined mentally in later years and worried his friends with his confusion and intentions to go for a drive. Fortunately, his friend tended to stay home.

"His wife kept an eye on him, but you can't watch someone 24 hours (a day)," he said.