The creation of a new local law, entitled, “Erie County Silver Alert System” was unanimously approved by the Erie County Legislature during its Nov. 4 session. Sponsored by Legislator Edward A. Rath III, R-Williamsville, the law creates a plan to expedite search efforts for missing Alzheimer’s patients or individuals with other dementia related illnesses.
Following the vote Legislator Rath was joined by officials and community members to announce the creation of the local law.
“The approval of the Erie County Silver Alert System is extremely important to our region which has a high rate of residents with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Furthermore, more than 70 percent of Alzheimer’s disease patients are cared for by a family member and there is always the fear that they will wander,” said Legislator Rath. “By creating this law we organize the efforts of law enforcement and media outlets to ensure rapid response in the event that a person with dementia is reported missing.”
The final step is developing guidelines and a set of procedures for issuing a Silver Alert, which will be drafted by the Erie County Sheriff’s Department in cooperation with the WNY Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
“Having Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, or watching a loved one battle the disease can be enough of a challenge for anyone. But knowing that our community cares and is compassionate enough to enact legislation that could protect and potentially save someone from tragedy should be of comfort and give hope to those affected by the disease. On behalf of those living with the disease, we thank Legislator Rath and the legislature for giving this issue the attention it deserves,” said Leilani Joven Pelletier, M.S., Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Western New York Chapter.
Erie County has an estimated 32,000 residents with dementia, and at some point 60 percent (or more than 19,000 people) will wander from their homes or become lost. Silver Alert will require that each police municipality have a system of communication to identify and locate those with cognitive impairments.
Silver Alert programs are enacted across the United States but Erie County is only the fifth county in New York to pass such legislation. Erie and Niagara Counties are the only upstate counties to do so. Legislator Rath began pushing for the creation of a local Silver Alert System this past summer following the report of a missing Amherst man who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Fortunately that man was located unharmed and Legislator Rath was determined to do everything he could to create a system that greatly increases the odds of finding a missing person before they suffer serious injury or death.
The proposed local law was filed for consideration on Sept. 21 and cosponsored by Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams, Minority Leader John Mills and Legislators Lynne Dixon, Dino Fudoli, Kevin Hardwick, Ray Walter and Lynn Marinelli. The public hearing was held Oct. 18 and the local law received tremendous support.
“We like to think of ourselves as the ‘city of good neighbors’ and this law is just one more example of how we look out for one another,” said Legislator Hardwick, R-Tonawanda.
The creation of the Silver Alert System has received support from several agencies, including the Erie County Department of Senior Services, Sheriff’s Office, private assisted living facilities that specialize in Alzheimer’s and dementia related illnesses, the Alzheimer's Association and Project Lifesaver.
“I’m very pleased with the adoption of this much needed legislation, it will help provide for the safety of Erie County seniors as well as lend critical support to their families and caregivers,” Erie County Senior Services Commissioner Brenda Ward said.
In the event a Silver Alert is sounded, the Sheriff’s Office and local police departments will rapidly disseminate information regarding the missing person to all media outlets. The Alert will include this missing person’s name, age, a physical description of the individual, what they might be wearing, and the last location where the person was seen.
For information about Alzheimer’s disease or for assistance, please contact the Alzheimer’s Association at 1-800-272-3900.