AUBURN — A statewide alert system could help local police and families track and find lost elders suffering from dementia, Auburn police Chief Phil Crowell said.

Crowell said he began investigating programs to help find missing elders last April after 77-year-old William Young wandered off, disappeared into the Maine woods and died.

“We’ve had a system, the Amber Alert system, that works to help locate lost kids,” Crowell said. “What we’re considering is something like that — a Silver Alert that has the full cooperation of the media and government agencies.”

Auburn police were scheduled to honor William Young on Tuesday night, naming a volunteer search and rescue effort in his honor at the city’s National Night Out celebration. Crowell said he had been working with Young’s widow and state legislators to create a Silver Alert system in Maine.

Young was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2004. It left him occasionally confused, anxious in crowds and with a poor sense of direction.

In April, he took the family’s Toyota RAV4 and drove away from his Auburn home. A national alert was put out, and Maine police and volunteers searched for him. His vehicle was discovered five days later in Spencer Bay about midway up the east shore of Moosehead Lake in Piscataquis County. His body was found a day later about 5 miles from his car.

“The criteria I’m using now is: What could we have done to help find him sooner?” Crowell said. He has two solutions — a registration database and GPS tracking.

The Silver Alert database program has already been adopted in Florida, North Carolina, Texas and other states. Police distribute kits to family members, places where they can put recent photographs, vital information, medical records and information about family cars and trucks.

“Every year, we make a real effort to get children registered with this kind of a kit,” Crowell said. “This would be similar. It would be something the family could hand us and make it that much easier to have all that information distributed faster.”

Crowell said he was considering purchasing a GPS tracking system that could be loaned to families of victims that are newly diagnosed with dementia. That would let families install a GPS tracker on the family car or on a bracelet or necklace and keep track of their relatives.

“Sometimes these things happen faster than a family is able to react,” Crowell said. “It might take a while for a family to figure out their next steps and find the support services they need. This could be available to them while they get systems of their own in place.”

Family members would set up a GPS fence around the community. They’d get a text message if the patient left that area, and the GPS would help them track down the person.

“If he had a system like that, it would have helped to track Mr. Young down,” Crowell said. “More than that, if we had a system like that it would have let us pinpoint his position.”

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