A year after a Coquitlam man suffering from Alzheimer’s went missing without a trace, his family is urging the B.C. government to introduce a special alert system to help find missing citizens suffering from dementia.
A retired pastor, 64-year-old Noh was last seen on Sept. 18, 2013, near his home at Lansdowne and Mccoomb Dr. in Coquitlam when he went on his morning walk.
Despite numerous sightings, his family is still looking for answers on what may have happened to him.
On Saturday, the First Annual Walk for Shin will be held to raise awareness about the so-called Silver Alert, a warning system designed to alert the public to vulnerable missing persons with dementia or cognitive deficits.
The Silver Alert is something the Noh family has been lobbying for quite some time.
In fact, Shin Noh’s son Sam says he is convinced his father would have been found had the Silver Alert system been in place when he went missing.
The family had two reliable sightings from a construction worker and Shin Noh’s fellow church member, but they did not know he was missing at the time.
Sam says that would not have happened if a Silver Alert was issued right away.
It took three days for the word of his father’s disappearance to spread.
“It is way too long,” say Sam. “Three days is totally unacceptable. That’s a lost cause.”
But, B.C. government has been lukewarm on introducing the alert system.
In February, NDP MLA for Coquitlam-Maillardville Selina Robinson introduced a private member’s bill for Silver Alert legislation.
At the time, Health Minister Terry Lake suggested he was concerned about personal privacy aspects and whether the Silver Alert would desensitize the public to Amber Alerts that go out across the province whenever children go missing.
Sam says he has sent letters to the Health Minister and Seniors Advocate, but has not received a written reply from either of them. He did meet with Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie twice recently, however.
Sam also met with Liberal MLAs Doug Horne and Linda Reimer this summer.
He was informed by Reimer that the government is currently monitoring the Silver Alert system in Ontario.
Sam says the issue of disappearing dementia patients is not going away any time soon.
In fact, an estimated 500,000 Canadians have Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.
According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, in just five years, as much as 50 per cent more Canadians and their families could be facing Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.
But it appears the government’s focus in on prevention, says Sam.
“My argument is we did everything we could to prevent this, but what happens when he walks out the door?”
The Ministry of Health told Global News in a statement:
Government is aware of silver alert-type programs in other jurisdictions (primarily the US and recently Ontario). The ministries of Justice and Health continue to monitor policy developments and progress, particularly in Ontario. The safe and speedy recovery of these seniors who have “wandered” away is important and is why health authorities work closely with local police departments when seniors with mental and cognitive illnesses such as dementia go missing. Working with local police departments to notify local communities is beneficial as seniors with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other mental disabilities don’t tend to travel too far – unlike the concern with Amber alerts where children are often taken across borders and into other communities.
Sam says while very helpful, search and rescue crews only go out on credible leads and the RCMP do not have an official search strategy for finding a person with Alzheimer’s.
So the family had to find a way to map out the sightings of Shin Noh, organize volunteers and use Sam’s fitness center as search headquarters.
That is what Robinson says is missing.
She wants to see a protocol in place for how to handle missing Alzheimer’s patients.
“The truth is, people will go missing. It does not matter how much prevention you do,” says Robinson. “But there is no community based protocol.”
Robinson says it is imperative to get everyone in the community on the same page when someone like Shin goes missing.
For now, the Noh family has been concentrating its efforts on building bcsilveralert.ca, a website that raises awareness about the Silver Alert, outlines alert criteria and lets people sign up for alerts.
“It is only one tool,” says Sam. “We obviously still need the government to step up, so that we could use better technology and reach more people. There is nothing available, so we decided to take it upon ourselves.”
He says the system itself should not cost too much money to implement, but requires all stakeholders to get together and come up with new policies, protocols and criteria.
Sam says they will be collecting donations to develop the initiative at Saturday’s event.
An online petition addressed to Terry Lake and Isobel Mackenzie has also been launched to start the Silver Alert in B.C. It has over 1,200 supporters.
WATCH: Sam Noh talks about the anniversary of his father’s disappearance on BC1
Sam says it’s hard to realize his father has been missing for almost a year.
He says there have not been many sightings of his father in the last few months, but tips were still coming in over the summer.
“I think at this point we are very good at filtering out what is actually credible. We are feeling the reality of it now. It is hard. I have no idea where to look either,” he says, adding the family has now stopped doing regular searches.
Saturday’s walk will go along the last known route that Noh allegedly took, east on Glen Drive, along Pipeline Road, west on David Avenue and down on Pinetree Way.
For more details about the walk, go here.
Meanwhile, the family says all information about previous searches and sightings is still available at www.shin-noh.ca.
Shin Noh is described as Korean, 5’6”, with an average build, and short black hair graying on the sides.
As a retired pastor, he may be seeking churches and respond to gospel music.
Shin is in good physical shape and can walk long distances.
Anyone who spots Shin Il Noh is asked to call police immediately and quote Coquitlam RCMP file number 2013-27945. If you have information on Noh’s whereabouts, please contact the Coquitlam RCMP Missing Person unit at 604-945-1550