State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.
Mary Zeltzer of Largo, Florida left her assisted-living complex to pick up some groceries. When the 86-year old failed to return, her daughter became worried. A week later, Mary Zeltzer’s daughter learned her mother had been found in her own car, a drowning victim.
That was February 2008, eight months before the state of Florida enacted a Silver Alert program. Silver Alert is an Amber Alert-type system for elderly Alzheimer’s or dementia patients that stray or wander off.
Charlie Brownlee had a better fate than Mary Zeltzer. Like Zeltzer, 76-year old Charlie Brownlee wandered away. Brownlee had been staying at his sister’s home in Miami. He left barefoot, got into a car, and attempted to drive to his home in Alabama.
Charlie Brownlee’s family notified authorities. That was during November 2008, one month after Florida began its Silver Alert program. A Silver Alert was issued and Brownlee was found by a police officer parked in a ditch about 30 miles away, alive and unharmed.
I will soon introduce legislation to create a Silver Alert system in Wisconsin. My legislation is modeled after Wisconsin’s highly successful Amber Alert program. The Silver Alert would utilize the Amber Alert system to alert the public about an elderly person wandering or becoming lost.
When an Amber Alert is activated, Wisconsin radio and television stations cut into programming to broadcast information about an abducted child using the Emergency Alert System. Highway message board signs also convey information about confirmed child abduction. The Silver Alert would use that same system that is already in place to alert the public about an elderly missing person.
Getting information out quickly and employing the aid of the public may prevent the tragic death of a senior citizen. That is why I consider this to be life-saving legislation, one of the most important bills the Legislature will consider this session. Because the Silver Alert utilizes a system that piggybacks off a system that is already up and running, the cost of Silver Alert would be minimal, if anything.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that at least 5.2 million Americans suffer from dementia. Research shows that six out of 10 of those will wander. Only four percent of those leaving home alone are able to find their way back without help. Seniors and others with dementia wander away, on foot or driving. If they are not found within 24 hours, at least half will suffer serious injury or die. An aging baby boomer population means those figures will surely grow.
Twelve states have Silver Alert and the program has been successful. A majority of those reported missing have returned safely. While the protocol for activating a Silver Alert varies from state to state, most of the states that have the program require local law enforcement to confirm that the missing person is a danger to himself or others and that the individual suffers from some sort of dementia before issuing the alert.
The beauty of Silver Alert is that within hours, thousands of eyes are looking for the car and the license plate or that missing elderly person. Broadcasters and others already know how to use the Amber Alert system. They should be able to implement Silver Alert quickly, efficiently, and effectively. Silver Alert has put many families at ease, providing comfort to them should they have a family member who has dementia.
The Silver Alert legislation has the support of the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Association, the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups Inc., and the Wisconsin Health Care Association. This legislation is nonpartisan and a positive step for the health and welfare of precious elderly.