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Wandering Law provides piece of mind for loved ones

Eileen Krupka's father has suffered from Alzheimer's Disease for the last six years.  He's like many other's with the progressive neurological disease of the brain he wanders, in fact 60-percent of Alzheimers or dementia patients wander and its a worry for the Krupka family, who live in Baldwinsville.

We have a lot of water around us. and he seems to be fascinated by the water and that's a huge concern

Once he was missing for 45 minutes, wandering about the neighborhood. Family and friends went looking to no avail and it was then that Krupka was on the verge of going to the police:

"It was getting crucial where we hadn't been able to find him.  And just as I was going back to my parent's house to call, a neighbor found him."

One reason Krupka wanted to notify Baldwinsville police so quickly was a new law that went into effect in October. The missing Vulnerable Adult Alert System has been established within the Division of Criminal Justice Services. It's kind of an amber alert for older vulnerable people according to Caherine James, Chair of the Central New York Alzheimers Association:

"It's utilizing the resources and technology we have for missing children and to incorporate that into missing or vulnerable adults."

How it works is a family member alerts local authorities that someone is missing. 

For example an individual with alzheimer's disease goes wandering, as it stands now a family member would contact police, but there's no statewide alert system to be able to get information out to the general public.  And we know many cases of individuals wandering that this is an opportunity for us to let the general public know because oftentimes its a good samaritan that comes along to see where they are.

It took a while to get through state government. Governor David Patterson most recently vetoing the legislation.  Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli and State Senator John Defransisco both from the Syracuse area sponsored the legislation. Magnarelli said the decision was easy:

"When you read about people wandering and dying just because we can't get to them in time, it seems like a no-brainer that you would do anything you could to make things better."

Six New York counties and New York City had established similar silver alert programs before the law was signed. Those will be folded into the statewide program. James says the law is especially pertinent in Central New York and it's lake effect type weather:

"Six out of ten individuals living with alzheimers will wander at some point.  And the majority of those individuals are found within a couple mile radius.  So we live in an area of the Northeast where the weather is very unpredictable,  you can travel ten minutes away and you can get a whole other world of cold and snowy."

So far it hasn't been used in Central New York, but the fact that it's there comforts families like the Krupkas:

"I know that I could call and I wouldn't have to wait that everything would be in place and we could get everyone looking right away.   It's a peace of mind."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.