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Helping missing people with dementia get home safely

Queensland researchers are asking Australians to brainstorm ideas for a project that aims to ensure people with dementia get home safely after they go missing.

Dr Margaret MacAndrew from QUT and the Dementia Centre for Research Collaboration said her study aims to improve the reporting time of missing people with dementia in the hopes it will in turn help improve chances of survival.

“One in five land searches in Queensland involves a person with dementia and, unfortunately, about 18 per cent will not be found alive,” MacAndrew said.

She added the issue is exacerbated by confusion about how to report to the police, which can delay search efforts.

“Many people think that someone has to be missing for 24 hours before they can officially be reported missing.

“But this is not the case. A person can be reported missing as soon as they are noticed absent.

“Rapid reporting within one hour of knowing a person is missing is known to help search and rescue have a better chance of finding a person alive and well.”

Over the next few weeks, the research team will field ideas from the public, with two online community forum days scheduled for November 24 and December 1.

“We want to hear from people who have an interest in improving the safety of people with dementia – nurses, doctors, police, other emergency service workers and members of the general public including carers of people with dementia,” MacAndrew said.

“The major aim of our research – and this community consultation – is to develop recommendations for a national approach to reporting a missing person and ways to improve the safety of people with dementia.”

Earlier research led by MacAndrew that examined news articles published between 2011 and 2015 reporting on a missing person who had dementia revealed 130 missing person cases. Most were men with an average age of 75.

“Of these, only 71 per cent were reported as being found and of those, 20 per cent were injured and another 20 per cent or 19 people were deceased,” she said.

“A similar study of newspaper reports in the United States alarmingly found most of the people with dementia who had died as a result of becoming lost were eventually found less than 1.6km from home.”

Those interested in contributing to the project have been asked to register online. Afterwards, they will receive a link to online learning modules about dementia that need to be completed before they take part in the small online group discussions.

The Getting Home Safely project is supported by funding from the Dementia Australia Research Foundation.

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