A report in the Dundee Courier this morning concerns a manhunt (or womanhunt, if you prefer) for an 86-year old from Dunbartonshire. When her care workers arrived at 7 am yesterday, she wasn’t there. A search has been mounted with police dogs, a helicopter and the co-operation of the Ministry of Defence. It’s not unusual for the police to be involved in searches for missing pensioners – in a case last year in Birmingham, they”searched the local area, made enquiries with relatives and checks with taxi firms, public transport and health care providers” – but the scale of this search raises questions about how we ought to respond.
There is nothing unusual about people with dementia going out. People with dementia tend to do things that they’ve done throughout their adult life. It’s often the context that makes the actions seem disturbed – people going for a walk because they think they’d like to take a walk, cooking in the middle of the night, going to the shops when everything is shut, lighting a fire when they’re cold, deciding to visit their family while not remembering that their family don’t live where they used to. In the bad old days, which are not that long gone, older people would routinely be incarcerated in psycho-geriatric wards, typically with locked doors. When we committed ourselves to keeping people in their own homes, we took on a degree of risk.
What kind of response would be proportionate? I don’t know; I don’t even begin to have an answer. But there has to be a better way than helicopters and dogs.