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)

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

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Ann Hicks, 77, in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
61 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

Twenty-nine people are in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care

Castlegar City Council at a January Zoom meeting. Clockwise: Maria McFaddin, Bergen Price, Sue Heaton-Sherstibitoff, Cherryl MacLeod, Florio Vassilakakis, Dan Rye.
Castlegar council temporarily fills vacancies left by departing mayor

Councillor Dan Rye will serve as the acting mayor until the byelection

Interior Health has set up a COVID-19 testing site in Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
No new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in Castlegar for Jan. 3-9

The BCDCD has begun to report more localized COVID-19 numbers in recent weeks

Community mental health workers are in high demand, and a new program at Selkirk College will provide opportunities in this field. File Photo
Selkirk College to train community mental health workers

Twelve students will complete two courses enabling them to work in health and human services

The City of Castlegar plans to move to renewable energy by 2050. Photo: Betsy Kline
City of Castlegar adopts West Kootenay 100% Renewable Energy Plan

It represents a commitment to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

Flags line the National Mall towards the Capitol Building as events get underway for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States

About 25,000 National Guard members have been dispatched to Washington

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A memorial for the fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving

Cumberland photographer Sara Kemper recently took the top spot in a Canadian Geographic photography contest. Photo by Sara Kemper
B.C. photographer takes top Canadian Geographic photo prize

Sara Kemper shows what home means to her in Comox Valley photo

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

Most Read