A Silver Alert success story

An elderly man who was reported missing last week was found safe two days later, thanks in part to a new law passed by the Legislature that allows the Washington State Patrol to issue an advisory “Silver Alert” when a person who is 60 or older and diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s is missing, issued through the agency’s Endangered Missing Person Advisory system. (Some day it might make sense to simply have an “endangered missing person” alert, rather than “Amber” or “Silver,” but one thing at a time.)

Family told police that Bryant Merrick, an 83-year-old diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, left his residence around 11 a.m. Wednesday, and reported the make and model of car he was likely driving. Merrick recently moved to Issaquah from Everett and was unfamiliar with the area, police said when issuing the Silver Alert on Thursday. On early Friday morning, according to the Issaquah Reporter, the Seattle Police Department found Merrick safe in north Seattle. Once the alert was issued, and the vehicle description displayed on message signs along the interstates, local police received many calls that helped find the 83-year-old man, the paper reported.

Luckily, everything worked as it should in this case, and no one was hurt. Unfortunately, the man was able to gain access to keys and a car. It’s easy to say he should not have been driving in the first place, but it solves nothing, because sometimes the unpredictable reality of dementia and Alzheimer’s can undermine even the most careful of care plans, and when it does, it’s good to know that a system in place can help find the missing person.

A person’s caregiver, usually a spouse, is generally in the best position to say when a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s should retire from driving, according to Mayo Clinic. Negotiating the giving up of the keys, but keeping the person’s dignity and a sense of independence, takes some skill, and often takes more than one try. Fortunately, for caregivers and families, more support and useful advice is available than ever before, as millions of people and their families deal with these diseases. The Alzheimer’s Association website offers step-by-step advice on how to have “the conversation” about driving, and what to do if that conversation doesn’t go well.

In the early stages of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, people can sign “driving contracts,” or other driving plan, with instructions on what to do when they can no longer drive, giving them an important say about the future, according the Alzheimer’s Association.

Mayo Clinic advises: “Whether your loved one stops driving all at once or in stages, he or she will probably grieve the loss of independence. Be as patient as you can, but remember to stand firm. The consequences of unsafe driving can be devastating.”

Of course it always helps to have a support system standing firm behind the person standing firm. It often does take a village, as this case shows. Kudos to the people who called in with information about the man.

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