It is estimated that 90,000 people in Scotland are living with dementia, with 3,000 of those under the age of 65. The majority of people with dementia are living within the community with varying levels of care and support.
In 2020, 526 people with dementia were reported missing to Police Scotland. Of these, more than 98% were traced safe and well, however, a very small proportion, unfortunately, lost their life. Often people with dementia who go missing are found heading towards a place which has a particular significance to them and it can be stressful for families to try and provide all of the relevant information whilst they are worried about their loved one.
I have almost nine years’ service with Police Scotland and my current role is the missing person operational co-ordinator based within the Partnership Co-ordination Unit at Queen Street HQ. The role requires me to monitor and review all missing person enquiries and provide a link with partner agencies who can assist in the prevention of further missing person reports by ensuring appropriate supports are in place.
I also work with partners to develop local procedures to ensure the police response is appropriate and that we are involved as soon as there is any risk.
New police protocol involves family members
Here in the north-east, the introduction of the Herbert Protocol in 2018 has made a significant difference in the search for missing people with dementia. The protocol is a safeguarding scheme used to enhance the police response and it involves family members or carers providing information in advance about a person to help in the event of any search.
This can include details about medication, interests, previous addresses and workplaces, as well as a recent photo. This vital information allows police to implement a more focused search, hopefully resulting in the person being found safe and as quickly. It also means that as much information as possible is gathered prior to a moment of crisis, and will undoubtedly give families a greater peace of mind.
The protocol was initially devised in South Yorkshire after police highlighted how difficult it can be to gather information from distressed relatives. When someone goes missing you can’t think straight, but this way all the facts are laid out already, saving the police precious minutes. The last thing you want is to have police officers asking you lots of questions when you want them to be out looking for your relative.
Families can fill out protocol form
The Herbert Protocol form can be found on the Police Scotland website and can also be accessed through the Purple Alert app which is a free to download. The app is monitored by Alzheimer Scotland and aims to quickly spread the word to its community of users when someone goes missing in their area by sending out an alert.
Furthermore, when the person is traced, they will be provided with support from Alzheimer Scotland. The app is available to download through the Android Google Play Store or Apple App Store.
More information is available on the Alzheimer Scotland website and the charity also offers a 24 hour Freephone Dementia Helpline – 0808 808 3000.
If you have a relative with dementia or care for someone who does, and haven’t yet filled out a Herbert Protocol form, I would urge you to as soon as possible. There is no cost and it involves minimal input but can have a massive impact.