Silver Alert: Safe Recovery for Missing Seniors

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Donna Mae Scheib

Silver Alert: Safe Recovery for Missing Seniors

Posted by Donna Mae Scheib on December 29, 2017

Silver Alert: Safe Recovery for Missing Seniors 

Healthcare statistics show that nearly six in ten older adults with dementia will wander at least once. Wandering behavior can be described as a “syndrome of dementia-related locomotion behavior having a frequent, repetitive, temporally disordered, and/or spatially disordered nature that is manifested in lapping” (Algase, et al., 2007). Characteristics of missing adults that can be classified within the demographic of missing seniors include (Biehal et al., 2003): 

  • Leaving their residence to enjoy fresh air 
  • Leaving due to a mental health disorder or disability 
  • Escaping a negative situation 
  • Trying to go to their doctor’s office 
  • Trying to get to a friend or family member’s house 
  • Looking for freedom outside of their nursing home or their house 
  • Trying to return to a previous place of residence 

What is a Silver Alert?

The Silver Alert program is a public notification system that broadcasts information on missing older adults, especially those with Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, and other cognitive disorders. Media resources such as the following are used to help spread and share information: 

  • Radio stations 
  • Television stations 
  • Broadcasted cable networks 
  • Social media outlets 
  • Traffic notification systems that provide messages to drivers on roads 
  • Reverse 911, a system used by authorities which can also notify a large group of residents, like an independent living community or a neighborhood and help spread the word about seniors who are most likely missing on foot and not driving around.

Silver Alert Legislation 

Although federal lawmakers have yet to pass a National Silver Alert Act, many states (35 states plus New York City) have passed a Silver Alert program or something similar for missing adults within their state legislation. The most recent bill concerning a national silver alert program was introduced in December of 2013 and a companion silver alert legislation was introduced in 2014.

Because legislation remains state by state, the Silver Alert program does not have the overall ability to track the success rate of safe returns for missing seniors. Successful recoveries seem like a probable and realistic ending for this program as any way to alert fellow drivers, neighbors, and authorities over state lines can aide in finding a missing person; the more people that know about the missing person, the better chance of finding the missing person!

Silver Alert Criticism 

Critics of a national silver alert program point out that frequent silver alert notifications in public systems could lead to the “numbing” of the public in which people ignore not only the silver alert notifications but also the Amber Alerts, which alerts the public of missing or taken children. However, nearly half of missing older adults who have Alzheimer’s or similar cognitive disorders that are not found within 24 hours, often have suffered a serious injury or death.

Preventative Measures 

If you know of someone that is at risk for wandering, it is a good idea to take preventative measures to help with finding your missing loved one: 

  • Use Identification: Include your own contact information in their wallets as well as some form of their own identity. It could be likely that they do not remember their purses/wallets if they wander off and in this case, putting their identification on their clothes is a good idea.
  • Use technology: Put a tracking notification on your loved one’s cellphone and even their car’s GPS.
  • Take Pictures: Make sure you have a recent photo of your loved one and take a picture of the back of the senior’s car, so you have the license plate, color, make, and model of the car available to hand over to the authorities.


Algase DL, Moore HC, Vandeweerd C, Gavin-Dreschnack DJ (2007) Mapping the maze of terms and definitions in dementia-related wandering. Aging Ment Health 11:686–698 

Biehal N, Mitchell F, Wade J (2003) Lost from view. The Policy Press, Bristol, Retrieved on September 17, 2003 http://justicefornatfraser. 

Gier VS, Kreiner DS, Lampinen JM (2017) Factors affecting recognition of seniors in a silver alert. J Police Crime Psych 32: 185-196.