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Helping a Stranger with Dementia

It is important to educate ourselves on the subject of dementia. That way, we can be more prepared to help a stranger we suspect may have some form of this increasingly common condition. It also helps to be more confident in spotting the symptoms of dementia, so that you are more willing to help if the opportunity arises.

These symptoms may include difficulty initiating or sequencing tasks, difficulty with movement, visual difficulties, language problems or unusual behaviours. This can make it challenging to assist someone with dementia; especially if you do not know them personally. However, this is no reason to ignore someone who looks like they need help.

If a member of the public, most likely elderly (although young onset dementia affects those under the age of 65), looking lost, distressed, or confused approaches you in need of assistance, there is a chance that they have a form of dementia. Although this may seem off-putting, you will never be criticised for trying your best to help.

When approaching someone who you suspect has dementia, aim to reduce confusion and avoid any further panic. Do not stand too close to the individual and bear in mind personal space, while making eye contact and using relaxed body language. This builds trust between you and the person you are trying to help, which may lead to them sharing more information with you later on. Of course, this is not guaranteed, as they may not know themselves why they are there or where they were heading.
When speaking to someone potentially living with dementia, stick to short, simple sentences and leave plenty of time for an answer- patience is often rewarded. Always rephrase as opposed to repeating what they cannot understand.

What happens next can only be advised for on a case-by-case basis. But if the situation becomes unsafe or if you are seemingly getting nowhere, it’s a good idea to call the non-emergency number (101) or even 999 for police assistance. However, if this is not the case, stay with the person with dementia in a public space– perhaps a café or shop- and attempt to contact a family member of theirs that may be able to provide some answers. Someone may even insist that they are fine and do not need help; in this case, you can only stay vigilant and report the incident as soon as possible.

If you know or care for someone with dementia, we advise that you research and complete the Herbert Protocol. Kent County Council have developed their own template, and this is called an ‘At Risk of Going Missing’ form. This is useful if someone with dementia tends to walk about or get lost and can minimise the search if said person goes ‘missing’. Carers or relatives are encouraged to fill in the form, detailing useful information such as current address, full name, a physical description including an up-to-date photograph, telephone number and medical history. The form also includes any hobbies, previous job roles, places they might visit, and encourages photographs of the person to be attached. This is a huge help to both the police and yourself, as it highlights certain places that your loved one might head for and what they look like, which saves time when you are in an inevitable panic.

If you would like more advice how to help a stranger who may or may not have dementia, feel free to contact us on 01474 533990 or email info@alz-dem.org.

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