By Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries and letters to the Editor of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)

I often focus here on the work we’re doing to make sure Somerville is a great place to live, work, play, and raise a family. Equally important – and what we need to be talking about more – is ensuring Somerville is also a great place to grow old.

The good news is that we already have some successful programs in place ranging from the extensive programming offered by the Council on Aging to the property tax exemptions we offer to income-eligible seniors. Many efforts focus on senior health and safety, and, here, I’d like to highlight an important one of these: the Silver Alert Program. In some ways, the Silver Alert Program is similar to an Amber Alert, but for older adults.  It’s a missing person notification system that in some cases can be life saving.

A collaboration between the Somerville Council on Aging and the Somerville Police Department, the Silver Alert program was adopted in Somerville in early 2016 as an effort to implement the Massachusetts Silver Alert Community Response System on a local level.  The process is simple.

When elderly residents sign up to be in the Silver Alert program database, the Council on Aging collects information about the person to create a profile. The information extends beyond the typical name, address, date of birth, and recent photo. Our staff members already know many of these elderly residents and work closely with them on a regular basis through other Council on Aging programming – dig deeper and include information about places they like to visit, medical conditions, preferred hospital and physician, and even old addresses. When an older adult is reported missing, the database is searched, and an alert is triggered through the Police Department computer-aided dispatch system (CAD). If the missing person is registered in the Silver Alert program, their recent photo and profile information will pop up on police cruiser computers, saving police valuable time on research and giving them a solid starting point on locating the individual.

While we can register only Somerville elderly residents for our Silver Alert Program, we do work closely with neighboring communities when a person is reported missing and the alert is triggered. We’ve already seen the program’s success on this front. In one case, an elderly Somerville resident boarded a bus headed for Kendall Square in Cambridge. She was confused and didn’t remember where she was going so she stayed on the bus riding the complete route back and forth a few times until the driver noticed and contacted the Cambridge Police Department, who had already heard from our officers regarding the missing person. This is just one example of several similar situations.

I know no one wants to think about their parents, neighbors, or friends getting lost, confused, or turned around. It’s difficult for me to think it could one day happen to my own mom or loved ones. However, if a member or your family has memory loss or dementia or any other risk of confusion, it’s important to prepare ahead of time to give them the best chance of being found quickly if they become lost.  Helping your loved one register for the Silver Alert program allows you to do just that.

It’s important to note that Silver Alert registration is open to any Somerville resident, age 60 and older, beyond those living with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other conditions. There’s no need to wait until you or a loved one reaches a specific phase in life to sign up. Police and health officials have seen cases of perfectly healthy seniors who simply have become confused as a result of exhaustion. And in some cases, dementia can develop gradually making it difficult for family members to fully realize the seriousness of the risk. For this reason, our health advocates recommend preparing in advance and encourage all elderly residents to register.

It’s no secret that aging in place in an urban environment like Somerville comes with its own share of unique challenges: mobility in an urban setting; managing stairs when living in the upper-levels of multi-family homes; the rising cost of living; affordable housing; ready access to services and health care, fitness opportunities and lifelong learning; and the list goes on. We’re working creatively to address these issues. Installing 20 mph safety zones around pedestrian-centered locations including senior centers and assisted living facilities, introducing discounts on water and sewer bills for low-income seniors, and updating an outdated zoning code that will allow for more affordable housing are among recent initiatives. We know that being able to more quickly locate a missing senior is only one piece of the puzzle, but it’s an important one for ensuring Somerville is a great – and safe – place to grow old.

To register for the Silver Alert Program, visit www.somervillepd.com/index.php/general-information/silver-alert-program, stop by the Council on Aging at 167 Holland Street, or call the Council on Aging at 617-625-6600 ext. 2300 to schedule a home visit. In addition to basic personal information, please have a recent photo and preferred physician name and phone number ready when registering. If you do not have a recent photo, one will be taken for you when registering in person.

 

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