AUGUSTA — Maine is employing some unique methods to help keep its aging population safe.
Maine is one of 35 states to have a Silver Alert program or its equivalent. A Silver Alert is similar to an Amber Alert for missing children, but is intended to help find a missing senior citizen.
Then-Gov. John Baldacci signed the Silver Alert program into law in April 2010. The program uses a number of ways to get the message out about a missing senior, including using the Maine State Lottery.
“When either [an Amber or Silver] alert is issued, the protocol is that the lottery vendor gets a communication from the Department of Public Safety and we have a mandatory message that goes out to all our terminals,” said Tim Poulin, director of operations and deputy director for the Maine State Lottery.
A message appears on a lottery ticket identifying the missing person along with a description. The same message also appears on the scrolling lettered lights that display winning lottery numbers inside stores. Roughly half of Maine’s 1,300 lottery retailers have the scrolling boards, he said.
Connecticut and Texas are two other states that also issue Silver Alerts through their state lotteries.
Silver Alerts also appear on billboards on the Maine Turnpike and are sent to news media outlets, according to Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland.
Last month, Maine celebrated its 10th anniversary of its Amber Alert program. Its only use in the state was in November 2009, when a Sanford man abducted his 2-year-old daughter after assaulting the child’s mother, according to McCausland. The two were located in Milton, N.H., the next day.
In Maine’s version of the Silver Alert program, an alert can be issued for anyone over the age of 60 or those ages 18-59 who suffer from dementia and whose disappearance poses a credible threat to the safety and health of the missing person.
The Silver Alert was created in Maine after a 77-year-old man suffering from dementia disappeared from his Auburn home and was found dead 150 miles away in April 2009.
“If the public knew there was a vehicle and his information, it may have had a different ending,” McCausland said.
Although a newer program than the Amber Alert, Silver Alerts are issued roughly once “every couple of months,” said McCausland.
“The most recent Silver Alert was issued last month for a woman who was missing in Portland,” he said. “It turned out she was at a neighbor’s house visiting and was gone for several hours.”
In many cases, however, people with Alzheimer’s disease can wander off.
Neil Arfmann, president of the National Silver Alert Program, said Silver Alerts have been lifesavers.
“We had a recovery the other night in Houston, Texas,” said Armann. “A lady that lived in New Jersey happened to be visiting her daughter in Texas. She was found at about 1:30 in the morning. She was wandering aimlessly in her house dress. She thought she was in New Jersey.”
He said 60 percent of people with Alzeimer’s disease will wander away from home at least once during the course of the disease. Of those who wander away, 72 percent are likely to do it again.
The United States has “a growing population,” said Arfmann. “[Right now] 5.4 million people have Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, the number will likely reach 16 million.”
Amber Alerts and Silver Alerts are issued slightly differently, said McCausland.
“Amber Alerts are designed to put an emergency broadcast alert on Maine’s TV and radio stations,” he said. “Silver Alerts don’t do that. Many times media outlets will obviously add that as a news item, but it doesn’t interrupt programming like an Amber Alert would.”
An exhaustive effort is undertaken by police before a Silver Alert is issued, said Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards.
“When we take a call about someone missing, there’s a slew of information we must do first,” said Edwards, including checking the missing person’s home, contacting family and determining if there’s a credible safety threat to the person determined missing.
Arfmann urged those with elderly family members to register on the National Silver Alert Program website.
“My biggest fear is when they get out in winter in Maine. How long can they last in their nightgown and no shoes on?” Arfmann said. “A lot of times, the outcome is not good. After 12 hours or 24 hours, [the chances of finding that person safe] really declines rapidly.”