Helping those living with dementia

I wanted to be a PCSO as I’m from a policing background – my mum and dad were both police officers. As well as meeting people from the community and helping to deal with local issues, one of my favourite parts of my job is doing dementia visits. I’ve been doing them for about two years now and I’ve probably been to see about 60 people in that time.

A dementia visit is basically going to see someone who is living with dementia and taking as much information as we can, and keeping a record of their information on our police systems. This means if they go missing, we already have a lot of crucial information on file and can start the search faster.

It’s reassuring for the family and the person living with dementia to know that if anything happens we have all the possible details we might need to get us started, and hopefully we can bring that person home quickly.

People are referred to me in one of two ways; either through the memory clinic in Houghton Regis when they have first been diagnosed, or by officers attending jobs and then referring the person to me. If they go to an incident where it’s obvious someone involved has dementia, they can refer the person and their family to me.

I’ll then make an appointment to go and see them – they or their family do have to give their permission for me to go along. Some of the people who have been referred by the memory clinic aren’t at an advanced stage and they’re not sure it’s appropriate for me to be visiting so soon.

But I always ask them if they have a smoke alarm in their house. I tell them it’s the same kind of thing; we’re just putting a procedure in place and even though we hope we never have to use it, it will give them and their family some peace of mind.

We take a photo of the person and put it on our system. That means if the person goes missing, our Force Control Room can send the picture immediately out to officers who are searching, rather than waiting to get a picture from the family.

We take details of previous addresses and any places that the person goes to a lot, like a church, a Women’s Institute or community group meeting or the bingo hall, or places they used to go. The idea is to capture anywhere that person might think to go to if they go missing and if their mind reverts to an earlier period, so we can check those places. For the same reason we ask for details of any family members who are buried locally, as well as any bus routes the person uses frequently.

We take a note of any languages spoken, in case English isn’t the person’s first language and there’s a chance they could revert back to another language. We also put a marker on the person’s address, so if anyone calls the force control room and gives that address, we can see that there is a person with dementia living there.

When I go to a visit I also take things with me like crime prevention leaflets, and devices called Memo Minders. You can record a message on these in your own voice – something like ‘have you got your house keys?’ – and every time the sensor on it is broken, the message will play.

Dementia is a horrible illness –for the person with dementia, and their family who are also hugely impacted by it. I’ve visited people who have only just been diagnosed as well as people who are very advanced, and family members have burst into tears while talking to me because the disease is having such an effect on their relative.

Both my grandparents had dementia to a certain degree, and since I’ve been in this job I’ve gained a better understanding of just how many people with dementia the police deal with. The dementia visits make me proud because I know that as a police force we are doing what we can to keep these vulnerable people safe, and putting precautions in place to help them and their families in case anything does happen.

Sally Simmonds has worked as a PCSO for nine years, covering Dunstable, Leighton Buzzard, Houghton Regis and many of the surrounding villages.

As the force prepares to launch the Herbert Protocol, a national scheme which encourages carers to compile useful information which could be used if a vulnerable person goes missing, Sally explains what she has been doing for the past two years to help keep people living with dementia in her area safer…

To read Sergeant Nicola Barlow-Cook’s blog about the search for missing Margaret, an elderly lady living with dementia who hadn’t returned home after a day of shopping, click here.

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