"Silver Alert" Possible in Arkansas

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) -- On January 12, Arkansas lawmakers will convene for their 1st legislative session of 2009. Several new bills will be taken up and one local representative wants to help write a new piece of legislation.

Incoming Representative Butch Wilkins, District 74, wants the state government to write a "Silver Alert" bill. The bill would require TV and radio stations to broadcast "Silver Alerts", which would help locate an elderly person who has been reported missing.

Currently, 12 states have adopted such legislation. Missouri has a similar program called the "Endangered Persons Advisory." It's issued when a person is missing under unexplained circumstances and is an at-risk adult. State and local law enforcement agencies are notified, as well as the media.

According to the National Alzheimer's Association, millions of people in the United States will develop the disease this year.

"They get very, very confused, and if they're not found within a very short period of time, it's unlikely that they will be found okay," said Rose Trosper with the East Arkansas Area Agency on Aging. Trosper said her organization supports such a law, and is currently working with Black River Technical College to train future police officers how to deal with elderly people who may have Alzheimer's.

"It would be very beneficial because it's another tool to track people who have Alzheimer's or a related dementia once they leave the home," said Trosper. "It's beneficial for us to give them some training to deal with these individuals and also their family members."

Wilkins said a silver alert system would be easy to implement in Arkansas, and shouldn't be too much of a burden for state and local authorities.

"I don't think that it's something that's going to overwhelm law enforcement or the media, but it is something that we need to be dealing with seriously," said Wilkins.

Much like the Amber Alert system, which is geared towards missing children, a Silver Alert would notify the public about missing Alzheimer's or mentally ill patients.

"As my generation ages, the baby boomers, we're going to see more and more, and it's time that we dealt with this stuff seriously," said Wilkins.

Possible opponents of the measure have concerns about funding and training for police officers.

Television and radio stations also have concerns about a new law, requiring them to do what is already a public service.

"In KAIT's instance, we do these types of alerts. When there's anybody missing, in this case an Alzheimer's patient missing in northeast Arkansas, we're going to be on the air with it. We're going to be telling people what's going on. For us, we don't need legislation to tell us to do it. It's the right thing to do," said Tim Ingram, General Manager of KAIT.

"It's part of our mandate. That's what we do is serve the public. I don't need a law to tell me to do what's right, unfortunately some people do," said Ingram.

"There's no reason really to be opposed because it's going to affect everybody. Every family in Arkansas, almost everybody knows someone with this type of disease, with Alzheimer's," said Wilkins.