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Mayor Richard J. Berry Launches New Program to Help Find People With Alzheimer’s Who Go Missing

City Provides Jump Drives to Care Givers

Albuquerque- Mayor Richard J. Berry formally launched a new program Tuesday that will help police find people with Alzheimer’s disease who go missing.

The program, Silver Alert, is a public notification system that will broadcast information about missing persons who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. In the event someone goes missing, the Albuquerque Police Department will utilize a variety of media outlets including: television, radio, electronic billboards, social media and direct phone calls to alert the public.

As part of the program, Mayor Berry hosted an event on Tuesday inviting people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers were invited to come to the Barela’s Senior Center to register. After registering, caregivers left with a free computer jump drive that contained all of their loved one’s information on it as well as a photograph. The jump drives will be used by police in the event a Silver Alert is activated. People who did not attend the event can still register by calling the City’s Department of Senior Affairs at 764-6400.

"Caring for our most vulnerable is paramount," Mayor Berry said. "We have heard about too many tragedies in which people with Alzheimer’s disease have wandered off and lost their lives. Had they been quickly found, they could still be with us today."

The Albuquerque Police Department, the City’s Department of Senior Affairs, and the Alzheimer’s Association, New Mexico Chapter started working on the program three months ago. Using grant money, the Alzheimer’s Association and the Police Department are providing radio tracking devices to any one who goes missing and has a Silver Alert activated. The tracking devices will quickly help the police find the person should they go missing again.

"When finding someone with Alzheimer’s, minutes can mean life or death," Albuquerque Police Chief Raymond Schultz said. "This new program will save us time and could ultimately save a life."

Twenty-nine states have passed legislation establishing a Silver Alert program including Colorado and Texas. Five states currently have legislation pending. Under the legislation, it requires to state’s Department of Public Safety to send out an emergency radio broadcast to the media in the event someone with Alzheimer’s goes missing. Mayor Berry is currently working with the New Mexico Legislature to get a state law passed similar to other states. In the meantime, the Mayor decided to launch the program locally first. New York City, is the only other local municipality to launch a Silver Alert Program on their own without state legislation.

"Working together with the police department, the Alzheimer’s Association and the community, we can make a difference in so many lives," said Albuquerque Senior Affairs Director Jorja Armijo-Brasher. "We hope that the work we do here in Albuquerque will prompt other communities to develop similar programs."

In New Mexico, there are 22,000 people who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia who could wander off and harm themselves. In the past two months there have been three tragedies involving New Mexicans with Alzheimer’s who wandered off.

Just days before Christmas, 80-year-old Ben Martinez’s life came to tragic end. The La Mesilla man, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s couldn't find his keys when he got back home.

The senior citizen broke a window trying to get inside, but it was no use. He sat outside in the cold on his front porch for hours. That night temperatures in the Espanola valley were in the low 20's and in some parts just teens and he passed away.

On Jan. 31, 73-year-old Kenneth Payne was found dead in a ravine in Ruidoso, nine days after being lost. Payne was in the early stages of dementia and Alzheimer's disease when police reported that he went missing Jan. 20. His disappearance led to a search by New Mexico and Texas authorities.

The jump drives contain three files - a photograph, a law enforcement form and a prepared news release. In the event a Silver alert is activated, public information officers will send the news release and the photograph to the media, Clear Channel Billboard and a Child Is Missing, who will then call people who live in the immediate area with a pre-recorded message. APD is also in the process of developing an agreement with Nixle, that will send text messages to cell phones as well.

Silver Alerts are only activated if the missing person is suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or is over 60 years old and has a reported medical or mental condition that may threaten, or greatly reduce, their ability to make sound reasonable decisions. The person’s whereabouts must also be unknown and he or she must be missing under circumstances not conforming to their normal routine or habits and may be in need of assistance or intervention.