Silver Alert System
April 26, 2018
The Honorable Senator Pamela Wallin:
Honourable senators, many of us here have lived with the fear of a loved one losing the character that made them a much-loved mother, or a father, or a mentor. A brutal, indiscriminate medical condition that knows no boundaries, dementia or Alzheimer’s affects more than 700,000 Canadians and their families, with those numbers expected to double in the next 15 years. It robbed the late former President Ronald Reagan of humour; the late comedian Robin Williams of a future; and struck down civil rights advocate Rosa Parks. Coping with this mean and often frustrating disease touches us all.
I remember many years ago my grandmother would leave our home, suitcase in hand, on a biting cold Saskatchewan winter day, in search of a memory and a lifelong past. Her behaviour, known as wandering, is common amongst those suffering from dementia. Our family was in a constant state of panic — mom and dad frantically leaving work or counting on the kindness of strangers and friends to bring her home safely.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case for many other families. There are too many stories of folks with dementia wandering and never coming home. If a person is not found within the first 12 hours, they face a 50 per cent chance of injury or death. About 6 in 10 people with dementia will become wanderers.
The AMBER Alert system, first developed in the United States, is an example of how we all can help. Designed to inform the public about abducted or missing children, it has been implemented Canada-wide and is lauded for its effectiveness. Between 2003 and 2012, 70 of the 73 children subject of AMBER Alerts in Canada were found safe and sound.
Creating a similar strategy for missing adults with cognitive impairments would save lives. The Silver Alert System enables law enforcement agencies to work with the media and the public to locate the missing. Many jurisdictions in the United States have implemented some form of this system, and here at home, Alberta and Manitoba have both passed bills creating a Silver Alert System. An e-petition on the House of Commons’ website calls for a national Silver Alert strategy.
Alongside the National Strategy for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias Act passed by Parliament last year, a national framework for the Silver Alert System will be an opportunity to give pragmatic help to families and hopefully spur all provinces to adopt the Silver Alert System. I look forward to raising awareness in the chamber and across the country about this issue and encourage my fellow senators to reach out, contact my office or participate by speaking to the inquiry.