John Pop, 79, suffered from severe Alzheimer’s and went missing from his Chilliwack home on Oct. 22. His body was found in a wooded area nearby on Oct. 26. Some say B.C. needs a Silver Alert system to help find missing people with cognitive impairment. (Facebook)

Case of missing B.C. senior with Alzheimer’s renews call for Silver Alert

BC Silver Alert co-founder says the first 12 hours a person is missing is critical

The death of an elderly man with Alzheimer’s in Chilliwack this week is renewing the call for a so-called “Silver Alert” system, similar to the Amber Alert used when a child is abducted.

Seventy-nine-year-old John Pop was last seen in his Promontory neighbourhood late in the afternoon on Oct. 22. An exhaustive search by RCMP, local volunteers, family as well as Chilliwack Search and Rescue turned up no sign of him until his body was found off Bridlewood Trail near Chilliwack Lake Road.

• READ MORE: Search for missing Chilliwack senior with dementia comes to sad end

Pop’s daughter Monica Wickham flew in from Chicago to help in the search for her father, and she thinks if there was a Silver Alert program in effect, he might have been found right away.

And she’s not alone.

Michael Coyle is one of the co-founders of BC Silver Alert, described as a collaborative project designed to help spread the word about missing individuals with cognitive impairment, but also to push for an official Silver Alert system in British Columbia.

Coyle has been a volunteer with Coquitlam Search and Rescue (SAR) since 2001 and was involved in the 2013 search for 64-year-old Shin Noh who suffered from Alzheimer’s. Noh’s son Sam along with Shawn Bouchard whose aunt went missing and was found deceased are the founders of BC Silver Alert.

Having been involved in several searches for missing people, Coyle believes a Silver Alert could be a useful tool.

“The important point here is to target it geographically,” Coyle told The Progress Monday. “We know from lost person behaviour that people with dementia have a certain profile. Seventy-five per cent are found within just a few kilometres, and 95 per cent are found within about 11 kilometres.”

Part of the pushback to a Silver Alert system is the fear of alert fatigue. If everyone in B.C. gets a jarring phone alert every time a person goes missing, there might be a negative response. And while an Amber Alert is sent out B.C.-wide because a child has been abducted and could be in a vehicle, the Silver Alert could be hyper-local. In the case of John Pop or, similarly, Ethel “Grace” Baranyk who went missing in the summer, only Chilliwack residents would have needed to be alerted since there was very little chance they got too far away.

If the national Alert Ready system were adopted using the same sound for a Silver Alert, however, it would be overkill, Coyle said.

“A Silver Alert would be a tone that indicates that it’s important, but not the alarming, wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night type thing,” he said. “We don’t need people to take immediate action… search your garage and shed and under your deck, then on the way to work keep your eye out.”

Coyle gave an example about being in South Korea in a restaurant, and everyone got a ding on their phone at the same time.

“It was because someone stole a car nearby, and if anyone sees the car, phone the police,” he said, pointing out that a Silver Alert is not a new idea and is used in several U.S. states.

Dementia is a growing problem everywhere where people are living longer. The B.C. Ministry of Health estimates there are between 60,000 and 70,000 people with dementia in the province. And the U.S. Alzheimer’s Association estimates that three out of five people with Alzheimer’s will wander.

Finding those people within the first 24 hours is critical, according to experts. In addition to John Pop last week and Grace in the summer, an 82-year-old woman went missing in the Columbia Valley area in early October and she has still not been found. (There was no report that she suffered with dementia.)

• READ MORE: SAR crews looking for 82-year-old mushroom picker south of Cultus Lake

In all three cases, SAR and RCMP were involved, and a large community volunteer network developed to help search. But also in all three cases, the broader community was not made aware via the media until well over 24 hours had passed.

“We definitely want an alert that goes out faster than 12 hours or 24 hours,” Coyle said.

Social media groups can help, but Coyle said it’s the wrong kind of attention. When a Facebook group pops up to help find a missing person, it’s not a bad thing, but it targets a niche audience of concerned and proactive people who happen to be using the platform. A Silver Alert targeted to one small region or a municipality could send an alert to every person with a mobile device to ask them to report sightings right away.

What would it take to implement a Silver Alert system? Political will and co-operation by police. Coyle concedes that it is complicated, because police would need to have access to the tool and the tool would need to be set up so they can use it.

“We know we have the Alert Ready tool. If it’s not the right tool, then we need more work to be done.”

• READ MORE: Search underway for Chilliwack senior with severe Alzheimer’s

• READ MORE: RCMP confirm body of missing Chilliwack senior found

signoff

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Spill response vessel arrives in Port Alberni

Base isn’t finished, but team is ready for emergencies

Port Alberni will have a salmon derby on Labour Day after all

Alberni Valley Tyee Club reveals ‘socially distanced’ derby only for Labour Day 2020

NIC practical nursing students hone skills on pandemic’s front line

‘It also has become clear that this is my thing,’ – NIC practical nursing student Breanna Patterson

Fisherman snags barracuda off Vancouver Island in rare encounter

Ferocious fish, not native to Canada, was netted and released in Alberni Inlet

Vancouver Island family loses everything after house fire next door

Friends of Paula and Clifford Lucas are raising funds to help the young family

Sources say Canada, U.S. likely to extend mutual travel ban into late August

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted at the possibility after a phone call with U.S. President

B.C.’s potential deficit $12.5 billion as spending spikes, taxes drop

Finance Minister Carole James gives COVID-19 outlook

Canadians torn on scaling back COVID-19 benefits to save money: poll

Of those surveyed, 78 per cent said they were worried about the size of the deficit

‘Trauma equals addiction’: Why some seek solace in illicit drugs

Part 2: Many pushed into addiction by ‘toxic stress,’ says White Rock psychologist

Hotel rooms for B.C. homeless too hasty, NDP government told

Businesses forced out, but crime goes down, minister says

Suspicious fire quenched before reaching gunpowder in Nanaimo’s historic Bastion

Probe underway in basement blaze that erupted near where powder stored to fire signature cannons

Duncan model makes quarter finals in ‘Maxim’ magazine contest

Brandee Peart among top one per cent left in competition

Wage subsidy will be extended until December amid post-COVID reopening: Trudeau

Trudeau said the extension will ‘give greater certainty and support to businesses’

B.C. government prepares for COVID-19 economic recovery efforts

New measures after July consultation, Carole James says

Most Read