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:
This is the heart breaking video that has police officers in tears. Grab your hankies, our social experiment gets emotional 😢 pic.twitter.com/k6PVLMs5fK— Northumbria Police (@northumbriapol) July 22, 2019
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:
- 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.
- Make sure your body language is relaxed and open.
- Speak calmly and slowly. Take your time to explain and listen to their answers.
- Use short, simple sentences and avoid complicated questions. Use simple language and ask one question at a time.
- 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
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.