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How to help a stranger who seems lost and confused

Here's what you can do if you meet a member of the public in need of help that you believe has dementia or memory problems. There are ways to assist the police in the event that someone who is vulnerable goes missing.

We have all experienced a stranger in the street approaching to ask for directions – it's a common daily occurrence. However, what happens if the person looks or seems confused, and tells you they can’t remember where they were heading?

Northumbria Police shared a video showing a social experiment taking place in Newcastle City Centre:

For the experiment, an undercover actor approached people in the street, asking for help as he wasn’t sure where he was.

Hidden cameras nearby captured the heartwarming moments people stopped to assist him. There were also many moments where the man was ignored with people walking by, not wanting to step in.

This is a form of stigma – members of the public were being reluctant to help someone who shows signs of dementia, as they don’t understand the condition or want to get involved. 

Why people with dementia may walk about or get lost

There can be a number of reasons why a person living with dementia walks about:

  • They could be continuing a habit, relieving boredom, or using up extra energy. 
  • Walking can relieve pain or discomfort and can be a distraction if they’re having problems sleeping or are feeling anxious. 
  • They may feel lost in their current environment, want to revisit a familiar place, or are seeking fulfillment. 

Whatever the reason for their walking about, they may become lost or disorientated because of it.

If you think you have come across someone in the street you believe has dementia or another condition that causes confusion, there are things you can do to help return them to safety. 

How to approach a person who seems lost or confused

When approaching someone you believe is living with dementia and needs help, consider the following: 

  1. Get close enough that you’re able to hear each other and make eye contact, but not so close that you’re in their personal space or are making them feel uncomfortable. 
  2. Make sure your body language is relaxed and open. 
  3. Speak calmly and slowly. Take your time to explain and listen to their answers. 
  4. Use short, simple sentences and avoid complicated questions. Use simple language and ask one question at a time. 
  5. If the person doesn’t understand what you’re saying, rephrase rather than repeat the sentence. Using non-verbal communication – like pointing in a certain direction – can help make things clearer and easier to understand. 

Stay with them if possible and try to help them stay calm. Reassure them as many times as necessary that you’re there to help – by building trust, you may be able to find out more information from them.

Contact the police as soon as possible to report that you believe you’ve found a vulnerable person.

It might help to wait with them in a café, shop or other public place so they feel safe. 

What can carers do to help people who walk about?

The Herbert Protocol is a national scheme that encourages those living with dementia, or those caring for them, to compile useful information that could be used in the event that they go missing.

The initiative is named after George Herbert, a war veteran, who had dementia. George Herbert died whilst 'missing', trying to find his childhood home.

Once the pack of information is complete, the carer keeps it in a safe place, ready to hand to the police when needed. Having it readily available can reduce the amount of time it takes to find the person and return them to safety.

A completed Herbert Protocol information pack includes: 

  • Vitals – name, current address, telephone number(s) 
  • A physical description of the person, including an accurate, up-to-date photograph 
  • Medical history, including their dementia diagnosis 
  • Life history – previous job roles, hobbies, likely places they may visit 
  • Carer and family information 
  • Missing now – when and where they were last seen, what they were wearing 

Missing Persons Information Hub (MPIH) logo

The Missing Persons Information Hub (MPIH) brings together everyone who cares about missing people. The MPIH website provides links to useful information and services to enable its network to connect and share knowledge and experience.

Get free Helpcards

Helpcards are for people with memory problems and dementia to carry with them. Using a Helpcard can make it easier to get help or assistance when out in the community. Helpcards are the size of a credit card and are free to order.

Order now


Hi everyone. I was just walking home from school today, and there was a lady that was probably in her early fifties or sixties. She was stumbling and looked very scared, and i was concerned. Sheh ended up actually falling over and looked winded. It was just her and her dog, and i asked her if she was okay. She said there was someone in her house, and i didn't have my phone on me at the time, so i asked her if she wanted to stop by my place to call someone, and it hadn't occurred to me that she may have Dementia at the time. She was very sweet but also frightened and i asked her if she needed a hug, which she gladly accepted. I also comforted her throughout the whole little encounter. I was a block and a half from my house, and she said she lived down that way too. Near the end of the block we were already on, a woman passed by us, and she whispered "that's her" to me. The lady asked her if she was going on a walk, which she replied yes to, which was confusing. She ignored my presence like i wasn't there, which was also confusing, and we kept walking. I'm pretty sure the woman was a neighbor because she followed us down the street on our way to her house. We took a wrong turn, and the lady told us that her house was the other way. The whole encounter was very sketchy, and she said that there was nobody in the house, that she was safe. She was mumbling something about scary people and a lady that was coming to get her in her sleep, which was when i figured she had dementia or some other disorder. I was skeptical of the other lady, though, and she had said that she needed to go into the house because her sister was trying to call her. It was all just really suspicious in the end, and she pretended that i wasn't there. In the end i decided to trust her, and it was getting late so i had to head back home anyways. I felt like i had made a mistake, but eventually calmed down and I'm pretty sure the lady is safe. My parents also told me they knew she has dementia because of an encounter on our block a few weeks ago that they decided wasn't worth mentioning at the time. I was thinking about going back to visit sometime, but i don't want to be a bother. She's married and has a dog and a daughter that i know of. During the mix-up i forgot to ask for names, but that's fine and i hope she's okay now. She was so sweet and just so confused and I'm glad i could help, and that i stopped. I told her to stay safe and left to go home. It was actually kind of scary because i thought that she meant the lady neighbor was the one in her house, and she was on the phone originally. Did i do the right thing?

Hi Cane, thank you for getting in touch and sharing your concerns with us.

It sounds like you may benefit from speaking with one of our expert dementia advisers, who can talk it through and provide advice and guidance. If you're based in the UK, you can call our support line on 0333 150 3456. (More details, including opening hours, are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line)

We hope this helps, Cane. Please do call our support line. 

Alzheimer's Society blog team

You did the right thing. You helped someone doing all that you knew how to do even though you weren't sure what to do. That took courage and you helped that woman. You did a good thing.
I just found lady an her dog confused in street outside my house in Bristol. I asked her name an her dogs name and we chatted. She told me was lost and couldn't find an address. I realised something wasn't right and managed to get an address from her. I got her an dog into my car an drove to address. Her side gate was locked with bike lock and she had no key in the handbag she was carrying. I checked with nextdoor who confirmed she did live here but had probably got out through window! Neighbour had phone number for ladies son, so i called left message and sat outside in car an waited. 10mins later a couple arrived, lady recognised him and she had indeed climbed out of front window with her dog! The son had locked her inside house and bike locked gate to keep her inside, he thought windows were secure as she wanders and lives alone! She has home care visits apparently who are aware of this! I lost my mum to dementia so have little experience of it, but this lady I found lives alone with dog, she should not be imprisoned surely what if there was a fire? I do not know what to do as she is a stranger, but felt story should be shared! I will attempt to contact social services on Monday morning. The lady hugged me and asked me to visit her again, I'm happy to do this but dont want get into trouble for it. Bless her she is just very isolated! It should not happen in this day an age but she is not first elderly lady I have found wandering.

Hi JJ,

Thank you for getting in touch with us.

We think it is positive that you are contacting social services because there may be aspects of this lady’s care that do need to be looked in to.

We would also never suggest locking a person with dementia in their home or anywhere else due to the potential dangers this could expose the person to.

Ideally, in a situation like this, we would recommend contacting social services and the police rather than taking the person with dementia somewhere else, as they may have been separated from the person they were with (who then won’t be able to find them if they come back to the same spot they last saw them), and because it is safer for both the person with dementia and also the person that found them that they stay somewhere public 

We would also recommend you contacting our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. With more information, one of our Advisors would be able to give more advice specific to this situation. Find out more about the support line, including opening times, here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line.

Thanks again for getting in touch with us, JJ.

We hope this is helpful.
Alzheimer’s Society Blog Team

I just searched 'what to do if someone with dementia is lost' following an incident earlier with a lost gentleman who we came across. We called 999 and the police came and took him home. But we were on a busy petrol forecourt and who knows how many people had passed him by. I believe there needs to be a highly visible campaign about how to help, because I believe people's inaction is often out of not knowing what to do for the best. This blog post was the first one to pop up on google, bravo, and depressingly the only usefel info source on the first page of results. But confronting people with a harsh social experiment video before the actual practical advice seems counterproductive. I was looking for a reliable sourced page which i could share to my own social media account to raise awareness, but I was not looking to present my followers with a guilt trip.

I searched this because today I was walking in an area of Manchester as I’m looking to relocate there. An elderly lady stopped to ask where we were, because she’d left her house for a walk and couldn’t remember how to get back. She’d forgotten the street name, but knew it was no 13. Google maps not much use! We walked around and I tried her key in a few houses numbered 13! No luck. I checked my phone for street names in the area, she couldn’t remember. She didn’t have her phone number, I could have called because her family were at home. Eventually she remembered her street name, and I made sure she was home. I couldn’t leave her to wander around lost, she was worried and scared.
A campaign of some sort needs to highlight a need for anyone likely to become confused and lost to carry ID, like the phone number of a relative or friend who could assist them. Possibly a neighbours address for safety. Reading these comments there seems to be a need for a public awareness information advertisement.

An older gentleman w early dementia was dropped off w his little dog at our RV park aprox 3mos ago and I took it upon myself to help him. I put him into a hotel the last two months and have been acting as his caregiver by checking on him everyday and making sure that he has his meds and food and company. I'm trying to find him a permanent home but the more I work w him the more I realize that he can't live on his own . My husband and I thought that maybe we could get a home w him and I could become his permanent caregiver. However I'm finding that his temper and anger is just too much for me to deal with. I need some real advice as to what is best for him

Hi Michelle, thanks for getting in touch.

If you're based in the UK, the best place to receive dementia information specific to your situation is the Dementia Connect support line. Call on 0333 150 3456 to speak to one of our dementia advisers - they can offer information and support. More details about the support line (including opening hours) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

If you're based in the US, please contact the Alzheimer's Association helpline: https://www.alz.org/help-support/resources/helpline

Or if you're based in Canada, please contact the Alzheimer's Society of Canada helpline: https://alzheimer.ca/en/about-us

We hope this helps, Michelle.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

A older man, maybe mid 80s, flagged me down tonight in my residential neighborhood. He was driving and lost and wanted help getting home. He seemed very disoriented but did give an address nearly an hour away. We printed directions in very large font for him, but it didnt seem like he could process them. He didnt know why he was where he was. He said he lived with his wife and we got his home phone and called police. The police arrived and did nothing more than give him verbal directions to the general area of the address he gave. "Turn south on xxx, then right on xxx then west....". He could not immediately repeat the directions past the first 3 turns. Second officer arrived and I told him I didnt think he could follow the directions of the first officer. But to no avail. They refused to escort him home. Understandable as it was the hour away. They did not call his wife. They escorted him to the end of town and left him on his own for the remaining 50 minutes and turns of his trip. Seems like there should be a protocol when encountering possibly dementia sufferers who are lost. It was very sobering to see the lack of real help he received. What is the protocol????

We managed to return an elderly gentleman home tonight who had dementia. Found him in our local park at 2am when we were walking the dogs. The home didn’t even know he was gone but we walked round to the closest ones knocking on doors. He was a lovely gent. I work for the ambulance service so we wouldn’t have left him. NEAS & Northumbria police both logging safeguarding reports

This evening ayt 9pm I walked past a man stood outside a garage, something inside me said "is that man OK", I asked him and he was fine, beaming back at me, in his 60's probably; reminded me of my Grandad, with a sparkle in his eye; he told me he used to run an old printers that used to be up the road, that I recall vaguely as a child, I am 47... He went on to ask me "if it was Friday and if it was 8 o clock or 9 o clock..." I assured him it was Tuesday and checked on my phone at 9pm... I imagine he wanted 9am, but fact he thought it was Friday made me think he was somewhat confused; he said a couple more things about dinnertimes and bin men, etc - maybe the disruption of bin change days had been a catalyst?, We had a really nice chat. I did worry as I walked off but he seemed happy and healthy and warm enough, wearing a bright green coat. Upon returning home he was on my mind as I hoped he got home OK, so I posted on my local facebook group about the experience in case anyone locally was aware of the man. Blessed be folks. In retrospect maybe I should have tried and phoned a taxi for him? A national network should be setup; put me on the list to volunteer if such a thing ever happens as supporting these people back to safety is the humane and right thing to do.


I've lived in the village I'm in for nearly a year, and have on at least 10 occasions been asked for directions to a street not far from my home by the same lady. I'm concerned that the lady asking may have some kind of dementia, but other than helping her find the street she's asked about I'm not overly sure how to help. Amy advice is much appreciated, I'd hate for something to happen to her.

H Lauren,

Thanks very much for getting in touch.

It can be difficult to advise on a situation like this without a bit more information, but I've included some suggestions here for you.

The best option may be to call our Dementia Connect support line, as with more information one of our Advisers should be able to make some suggestions about how best to help. You can call on 0333 150 3456, and find more details here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

Depending on the size of the village, it’s possible that a local business may know this lady and be able to put your mind at rest or get in touch with her, or get in touch with her family to let them know she may need support. Similarly, they may be able to get in touch with the lady’s GP to let them know she often seems to get lost while walking.

If this isn't possible and you're concerned about this lady’s safety, then it is absolutely fine to call the non-emergency police line (101) or speak to the local police station. If the lady is often in the same area around the same time, then the local police may be able to look out for her and approach her to assess the situation.

Hope this is helpful, Lauren.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

I met a confused not elderly but not homeless person today. You could talk with them but they didn't knew where they came from and other things. I couldn't stay with that person because of various reasons. If I could have I would have stayed. I called the police and they told me that people like that exist and as long as the person os not doing anything they won't come. It was horrible.

My mother has dementia and lived on her own until she was 92 years old. She would go out at night and we began to get calls from neighbours and the police. They suggested mum wore a GPS device which I think is an excellent idea when someone goes missing. She has now been in a home for 2 years and seems happy and well cared for but I miss her terribly.

I have suggested having a designated 'Meeting Point' (as in airports),for anyone likely to be confused (any age), in our local municipal building which houses the public library.Plans are being made for this.

I often take a out a gentleman friend with Alzheimer’s who has a very jovial disposition, and who looks and talks just like anyone else, but recently he is beginning to make inappropriate comments when we are out and about. This can sometimes be embarrassing and not many people realise that he has Alzheimer’s and make allowances. If we had a lanyard (like the Autism Society), maybe with forget-me-nots rather than sunflowers this would enable people to understand that he is not being rude or disparaging but just making what he believes to be a joke. So come on Alzheimer’s this could make a massive difference to many people!!

There are many buttons, brooches and other jewellery items featuring forget me nots available on Amazon And elsewhere for easy identification of dementia sufferers as well as lanyards. They are inexpensive, tactical and attractive. Hope this helps

My mum lives with vascular dementia. My sisters and I have watched a proud powerful woman be reduced to a not knowing who we are or where she is. Christmas Eve she decided to go back home at 12 midnight. She left her home of 20 years and headed down the A5 in slippers to go back to the house we grew up in. Thank god an off duty police man spotted her whilst he was driving home and kept her safe and warm and called his colleagues, got an interpreter and made contact with us. Me and my sister have not left her alone at night since. The policeman came back to see my sister and told us about the Herbert Protocol and we have her on the data base. It’s hard and those glimpses of mum are all but gone but we care for her always.

I attend my local Church and it has now become Dementia Friendly. We have made obvious alterations to make it safe for anyone with Dementia visiting the Church. I am the Coordinator and hope to invite anyone with Dementia to visit. My own Mother had Dementia and her Brother has it now. I like to help people as much as I can.