Adults go missing for all sorts of reasons, but according to the charity Missing People, dementia is one of the most common, representing around one in ten adult missing incidents nationally. It is estimated that four in every 10 people with dementia will go missing at some point, often unintentionally.
It is important that families and carers feel that there's something they can do to help when someone goes missing. Later this year Wiltshire Police is piloting 'The Herbert Protocol' in Swindon; a national scheme which encourages carers to compile and store useful information which can be used in the event of a vulnerable person going missing.
Carers, family members and friends will be asked to complete in advance a simple form recording important details, such as medication, mobile numbers, places previously located and a recent photograph. In the event of a family member or friend going missing, the form can be quickly handed to the police, reducing the time taken gathering information during the initial, critical stages of a search, which police refer to as 'the golden hour'. The Herbert Protocol is named after George Herbert, a war veteran of the Normandy landings, who lived with dementia.
Wiltshire Police, working alongside a number of health agencies forming the Swindon Dementia Steering Group, will trial the new scheme this winter and distribute forms and information to care homes, GP surgeries, pharmacies and home care teams across the town. If successful it will be made available across the county as a whole.
One of the partners backing the scheme is Swindon Carers Centre which supports 4,000 carers. Melanie Dix, Service Delivery Manager said "It is extremely important for carers to put contingency planning in place to support them and the person they care for in an emergency. This is always done most successfully when people have the time and energy to consider the 'what if's' and not during a crisis situation. We are looking forward to supporting the unpaid Carers of Swindon utilise the Wiltshire Herbert Protocol Scheme."
Detective Inspector Mark Kent, Wiltshire Police lead for Missing People, is heading the project. "I really welcome the opportunity to work with the Swindon Dementia Steering Group to pilot the Herbert Protocol. This work will help us and help carers to keep vulnerable safe."
Three weeks ago, 74 year old Barry Whyte went missing from his home in Upper Stratton, Swindon. A major search got underway - police officers, PCSOs, Wiltshire Search and Rescue and the National Air Police Service. Barry had taken his bus pass, so all possible bus routes were checked, as well as local parks, doctor's surgeries and train stations. Fortunately Barry got himself back home the next day, after more than 24 hours missing, much to the relief of his wife Chris.
Barry was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease a few years ago. He does not know why he wandered off, but does remember getting on a bus to Salisbury, then another to Bournemouth, where he slept out overnight as he couldn't find any accommodation, before boarding a bus home the following morning. "None of the logical things passed my mind. I didn't think to go to the police or hospital at all, it just didn't cross my mind," he said.
Chris was used to keeping an eye out for Barry as he had gone missing before. This time he didn't go out the front door, he climbed through a sitting room window. "I called out, searched every room," she said. "You don't know what to do. I didn't want to at first, but realised I had to call the police and rang 999."
Chris praised the efforts of the police in helping the search for her husband, "They were so reassuring and really did their best for us." Barry now understands the anguish caused by his disappearance, "I can't express enough my gratitude to the Force," he said.
Barry and Chris are receiving help from social services and looking at what they can do to help themselves. They fully support the idea of the Herbert Protocol and understand it could save vital time and really help the police. Chris said, "We will be the first to sign up!"
Sometimes people are reluctant to call the police when a friend or loved one goes missing, even police officers themselves. Gareth, whose father was diagnosed with dementia, said "When my Dad went missing I was embarrassed to call the police - somewhat ridiculous as I'm a Wiltshire police officer myself. It was a busy Friday night and I know only too well the time and paper work involved in investigating one missing person. This feeling was entirely personal and didn't reflect the way I was actually treated by the police officers who helped find him, which was with patience, kindness and professionalism.
"Over that year my dad started to go out at odd times - usually early in the mornings - and most of those times he came home by himself. Often he had been on quite long journeys by train or bus but couldn't always explain why.
"As the symptoms got worse these trips became more alarming. At its worst my dad described finding himself suddenly in the middle of nowhere in the dark, with no idea why he was there and having to find his way home. He described this as 'absolutely terrifying'."
Wiltshire Police has dealt with 1,456 reports of missing people in the last six months. It advises people to call 101 straightaway, or 999 if the missing person is a child or someone thought to be at serious risk or harm. Alternatively, you can also call the Missing People helpline on 116 000.
The Force is running a campaign to raise awareness of what happens when someone goes missing, as part of this summer's 'Beyond the Beat' campaign.