Texas Governor Greg Abbott today signed House Bill 2639 (HB 2639), which will allow a family whose loved one goes missing or wanders due to younger-onset Alzheimer’s to call their local police to activate a Silver Alert and aid in the rescue of their family member. Passed during the regular session of the 85th Texas legislature, H.B. 2639 by Representative Joe Pickett, amends Texas’ Silver Alert system so as to include all individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, regardless of their age.
Passed a decade ago, the original “Silver Alert” was created by State Representative Joe C. Pickett, after a local El Paso family had to endure the tragic loss of 86 year-old Cruz Fierro who had gone missing. Their tragedy brought attention to the problem of wandering associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other similar conditions. Since the inception of the “Silver Alert” program, Texas has seen many successful situations in which the system has been activated for elderly persons with dementia, who may have not otherwise been found.
This past legislative session, the alert system was carefully amended to include all persons with Alzheimer’s disease, regardless of age. Even though the name remains “Silver Alert,” a family whose loved one goes missing or wanders due to younger-onset Alzheimer’s can notify their local law enforcement to activate the alert and aid in the rescue of their family member. Silver Alerts use a variety of media outlets such as radio stations, television stations and social media, as well as state and local government emergency notification systems, to broadcast information about missing older adults and notify nearby residents of the neighborhood surrounding the missing person’s last known location.
3 out of 5 people with Alzheimer’s will wander, and half who are not found within 24 hours, suffer serious injury or death. Texas was one of the first states in the U.S. to adopt the “Silver Alert” system in 2007. However, prior to the passage of H.B. 2639, an alert from local police could only be issued if the individual with Alzheimer’s was over the age of 65. The Alzheimer’s Association, recognizing that there was a gap in the state’s system, worked with Rep. Pickett, to draft legislation that ensured that that the state’s Silver Alert system was inclusive of those with Alzheimer’s younger than 65 years old (i.e. younger-onset Alzheimer’s). Approximately, 18,000 Texans suffer from younger-onset Alzheimer’s, which is a form of the disease that affects people as early as their 40’s and 50’s.
“Thanks to our bill author’s [Representative Pickett] unwavering support, families of those with younger-onset Alzheimer’s now have the opportunity to utilize this important public safety tool–the Silver Alert notification system – should their loved one wander, “ said Melissa Sanchez, Alzheimer’s Association Texas Public Policy Lead. “It is important that Texans are aware of the high likelihood that a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease (regardless of their age) will wander, and that they know that the Silver Alert system and the Alzheimer’s Association’s Safe Return Program are two resources that can help in their safe recovery.”