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When People Living with Dementia Become ‘Missing Persons’

Preface by Jacquie Pond

"I am so grateful to our guest blogger for International Women’s Day, Jo Shiner, Chief Constable of Sussex Police who is undoubtedly ‘Choosing to Challenge’ in her daily role. I am really grateful to Jo who has taken time out of her busy policing schedule alongside her other role as Patron of ‘Sussex Search and Rescue’. Jo was appointed to her role of Chief Constable of Sussex Police in July 2020 and when I emailed to ask if she would write a blog for Dementia Support, she responded immediately to say she would be delighted to do so."

Jo Shiner Chief Constable of Sussex Police

I am delighted to have been asked to write this piece for Dementia Support, Chichester, and I wanted to start by paying tribute to the fantastic work undertaken here. I know first-hand, through my operational policing experiences the impact that dementia can have on the whole family unit.

I have been involved in many searches for those living with dementia and are vulnerable as a result. The worry caused to those caring for the missing person is immense, and often, the lack of items taken by the missing family member makes the search even more challenging.

Celebrating My Career

My career in policing started in 1993, in Norfolk. I then transferred to Kent Police in 2014 as Assistant Chief Constable, before moving to Sussex Police in 2018 as Deputy Chief Constable. In July 2020, amidst the background of the pandemic, I became the first ever female Chief Constable of Sussex Police. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.

Whilst in Norfolk, I led many teams in searches for vulnerable people, which led me to becoming a Trustee for Kent Search and Rescue, and now a proud Patron for Sussex Search and Rescue (SSAR). This charity is formed of volunteers and they are a primary search resource for Sussex Police. They are a dedicated team of professional trained local volunteers and I am immensely grateful to them for giving up their own time to search for vulnerable missing people and ultimately save the lives of others. The commitment shown by these heroes, searching both day and night, and in all weather, is extraordinary. The SSAR teams support the work of our Missing person teams, who in 2020 undertook 26 missing investigations involving people with Dementia.

Walking with Purpose

When people with dementia decide that they are going to go for a walk from their house, it could be for a number of reasons, they might be going to the shops, wanting to buy some food, looking for someone or wanting some fresh air and take a stroll round the block and lose their way.

For some people with dementia, they might not recognise the house they are in and want to return to a more familiar place to them and set out to find where that is. It is the disorientation and confusion of not recognising their surroundings that can make the situation worse. If the person does find someone to talk to, they might not know where they are trying to get to or where they have come from. So, asking for directions is not going to help them.

It is also very common for someone with dementia to walk in a straight line, so if they are out in countryside they wouldn’t stick to footpaths and will walk into brambles, into heavily wooded areas which makes searching for them even harder.

Finding someone who has got onto a bus makes the search for the person with dementia even harder because they can travel a great distance in a short space of time, and in a number of directions. Having more information about a person with dementia will help us in our search when they are missing. Search’s for the missing person start from the last known location and can span out to places that they might usually go. These searches use lots of feet on the ground and the SSAR team volunteers aid in the search.

The longer that a person with dementia is missing is also of great concern, they become more at risk of hyperthermia on cold winter nights. It is very likely to that when the person with dementia left their home, they didn’t put on appropriate clothing so may not have a coat to keep them warm and dry. There are other hazards such as bodies of water and if the person with dementia is tried and cold, they may not be able to swim and if they do sadly not for long. It is paramount that the person is found as quickly as possible.

Supporting People to remain Safe

Being a police officer provides such a privileged insight into people’s lives during difficult times, and that huge sense of responsibility drives us all to protect our communities and keep people safe in the best way we can.

In 2018, Sussex Police signed up to the Herbert Protocol in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society, Dementia Friends, & SSAR. Families complete and retain a form at home that contains up to date information including current medications, previous addresses and a recent photo.

Our close work with Adult Social Care has also been instrumental in the use of GPS tracking devices. First trialled in West Sussex in 2013, it is now embedded within the Missing Persons Teams. The devices are purchased and used by the families of those with Dementia, a discreet small tracker that can be covertly placed in clothing to ensure the safeguarding of a loved one. We then flag on our systems this address and person. Only recently after a 3-day missing period, did a family utilise this service and therefore prevented other episodes.

Our Missing Persons Teams can also provide advice and guidance to families regarding increased security measures e.g. smart watches, window locks, doors and gate alarms.

Policing is an exciting, diverse and truly fantastic career. My officers, staff and volunteers work tirelessly to keep our Sussex communities safe. I am also grateful to the many partners and charities who support us.

Celebrating International Women’s Day

In the spirit of celebrating International Women’s day, I was asked to consider five women I would invite to a dinner party when Covid restrictions end. I would invite Michelle Obama, Steph McGovern, Naga Munchetty, my personal assistant Lisa Griffiths and Staff officer Karrie Bohanna.

I wish everyone reading a safe 2021.


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