The Herbert Protocol and ensuring safety for people living with dementia

Written by: Irene Oldfather, Director of Strategy and Engagement, The ALLIANCE

Published: 24/03/2021

Irene Oldfather reflects on the importance of the Herbert Protocol for locating people living with dementia who have been reported missing.

I was really heartened to see the ALLIANCE  being invited to comment on the most recent incarnation of the Herbert Proposal as used by Police Scotland.

The Herbert Protocol is an information gathering process to assist the police to find a person living with dementia who has been reported missing, as quickly as possible. Developed as a form, information about a specific person living with dementia can be completed by a family member, friend, neighbour, primary carer or other circles of support. This information can then be used by the police to help identify and locate the missing person.

I wrote a blog some years ago about Janet who had dementia and went missing for a week in Glasgow only to be found dead a week later by the Clyde. Janet had got on and off buses and gone in and out of shops over the week. You can only imagine the confusion and loneliness she must have felt and the agony that her family must have gone through during that week. Sadly Janet isn’t the only person who has gone missing. I was therefore personally really pleased to see the third Dementia Strategy give a commitment to dealing with missing persons.

There are examples of good practice of this in Europe. For example, Belgium has a dedicated Missing Persons unit, and I was privileged to speak at an Age Platform conference in Brussels alongside the Head of Unit. The talk was harrowing, the statistics grim and the photographs of the people found still stick with me. Many were found dead within two miles of where they first went missing.

The Herbert Protocol is an opportunity to put in place a plan around how we keep people safe and, when they do go missing, to ensure that as a Community we know what to do, who to alert and how to handle the situation.

Having information lodged about what matters to individuals, taking forward the principles of the What Matters to You Movement, would very quickly allow us to reduce distress and reassure individuals about familiar things while they wait for family to arrive.

Often as citizens we don’t know how or when to intervene, an awareness campaign around what to do and how to support in these very difficult situations is to be welcomed.

It’s important to remember that Dementia is everyone’s business, and it’s just as important to raise awareness around mental health. We don’t blink about first aid training or CPR to prevent out of hospital cardiac arrest. Is it time to undertake training in responding to less visible issues in our society?

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