It’s traumatic when an elderly family member goes missing, especially if they have dementia. Beyond calling 999 it can be hard to think of lots of important information to provide the police with to help them with their search, that’s where the Herbert Protocol comes in.
Using the Herbert Protocol anyone who is looking after a vulnerable person, who is of risk of going missing, is encouraged to complete a form and record vital details.
The information captured on this form is intended to help care workers, partner agencies and the police if the person it refers to goes missing. Collating all this information prior to any incidents will save precious time and saves you from the frustration of being asked questions when all you want the police to do is be out looking for your mum or dad.
What is the Herbert Protocol?
The Herbert Protocol is an early intervention and risk reduction scheme to help find vulnerable people who are at risk of going missing.
The protocol is named after a war veteran of the Normandy landings named George Herbert, who lived with dementia in a care home. Mr Herbert went missing and sadly died while searching for his childhood home.
The protocol was initially designed to help Norfolk Police find people, such as Mr Herbert, who went missing from care homes, by encouraging family members and carers to compile useful information which could be used in the event of a person going missing.
The protocol was first implemented to help those living with dementia who live in care homes. 18 months after this initiative was launched, the protocol was broadened for those with dementia who live independently in their own homes.
The scheme also allows the police to offer a variety of safeguarding advice to vulnerable people and their families or carers.
The Herbert Protocol is now widely used by police forces across the UK and several organisations such as Dementia Action Alliance are working in partnership to raise the profile of this scheme.
What does the Herbert Protocol Involve?
The simple idea is for carers, family members and friends to complete a form which records vital information on the vulnerable person.
If the person goes missing, sharing the information with professionals, including the police to protect and safeguard the person will become proportionate and necessary.
The police will only ever ask for the form if the person is reported missing.
How to obtain a copy of the Herbert Protocol Form
All police forces involved in this protocol have slightly different versions of the form which is available to download from their website as a word document.
To obtain a form from your local police force type into Google search the name of your county’s police force together with the words ‘Herbert Protocol’, for example ‘Cheshire Police Herbert Protocol’.
The form has been designed so you can fill it in on the computer to save you time and easier to share with the police if needed.
What information should be recorded on the form?
Between you and your parent try to think of every location that has been important to them –think back to when they were young and the places they loved to visit. Detail all their places of work; even if a company they used to work for doesn’t exist anymore, provide the location.
Gather historic information from other members of the family too because people with dementia often revisit periods of time in their long-term memory, especially to places which have an emotional attachment to them.
This checklist will help:
- Name, and preferred nickname if any
- Description: weight, height, hair colour etc
- Any distinguishing features: birthmarks, tattoos, scars etc
- Daily routine with locations
- Any weekly or monthly appointments
- Hobbies and interests
- Do they carry money with them, can they access money?
- Previous addresses
- Date of birth
- Mobile phone numbers
- Any previous locations they have been found if they have gone missing previously. Give details of the route they took.
- Schools, colleges and universities attended
- Where they grew up
- Where they enjoyed going on holiday
- Where they got married
- Any location you believe has an emotional attachment
- Any risk factors. Is your parent suicidal, depressed, confused, violent, use alcohol etc.
- Point of contact when they are found
- Any other information that will help locate, protect or help communicate with your parent
These checklists prompt you to answer as many questions as you can, but don’t worry if you cannot answer all of them, as some may not be relevant to your parent.
Keep several copies of up to date photographs with the forms.
Who should provide the information?
It’s best practice to fill out the form in slow-time with your parent. Ask the questions calmly and gently and if they can’t remember any of the facts don’t push them for it. You can always revisit the questions another time.
Ask your parent’s friends, other family members and their carers if they can fill in any gaps.
Some questions on the Herbert Protocol form may be directed to professionals so you’ll need to ask them for some information too.
It should only take approximately one hour to complete all sections.
What to do with the form when it has been complete
Once the form has been completed, you should keep it electronically (if possible) and in a place where you can easily locate it as you may have to find it very quickly. It’s a good idea to make several copies and give them to relatives, neighbours and carers.
As the form contains a lot of personal information, it’s important that the form is kept somewhere safe to ensure their privacy is protected. Do not give it to anyone you do not know or trust.
Keep a note of who has the form as you will need to provide them with further copies should you need to update the form. Be mindful that you will need to update the form if your parent moves out of their present address or changes their appearance, for example they get new glasses or a new hairstyle.
If you become concerned about scams or worried that your parent’s details have been used fraudulently visit our article on avoiding scams to provide you with more information.
If you are concerned that your parent is of high risk of going missing try to identify what your parent is trying to achieve when they go walking, perhaps keep a diary of where they walk to.
While the act of walking is good for them, the worry that that they could become disorientated and lost is very real. If you are able to, accompany your parent on their walks and try to establish what the purpose of the walk is. Possible reasons for leaving the house to go for a walk include:
- They may wish to continue a routine they once had of going for a walk
- They walk to occupy themselves and it can give them a sense of purpose
- They feel the need to use up energy
- Walking may bring them pain relief
- If they have recently moved, they may feel uncertain about their new immediate surroundings
- Walking may relieve their anxiety
- They may be searching for something or someone from the past
- They may seek fulfilment by acting out a chore from the past, for example picking up a child from school or going to work
- They may be confused about the time of day
- They may have got confused looking for a toilet and accidently left the house without meaning to
14 tips to help stop elderly people getting lost
Here are some tips you can try with your parent to enable them to maintain their independence and dignity and to limit the risk of them walking away from home and getting lost. Uncovering underlying needs and finding solutions will improve your parent’s wellbeing.
- If your parent has a garden, make sure this is kept safe and the paths are kept clear. Introduce their favourite flowers and perhaps a bird feeder to occupy them.
- Our article on how to keep elderly parents busy may help you find some suitable activities to occupy your parent if they walk due to boredom.
- When it looks like your parent is getting ready to go out, remain calm and help them prepare for the weather. Walk with them for a while and distract them to head back.
- If your parent goes walking alone sometimes, tell them to take identification with them, or sew their identification and your phone number into a jacket or bag they usually wear when outside.
- Ensure that all useful contact numbers are stored in their mobile phone. If your parent goes missing and they have their phone with them which is switched on, it may be possible to trace them.
- Consider a Safe Return Programme such as Once enrolled your parent will be issued with an identification bracelet which provides vital information about the wearer.
- Provide your parent’s neighbours with contact telephone numbers. Or, if your parent is in a home, inform the staff about any walking habits.
- If your parent suffers from loneliness and you are unable to check in on them as often as you would like to, you may find using the services of some organisation useful, where someone can make a visit or call your parent. Our article on Home to Home Befriending Service will provide you with more information.
- Look into Assistive Technology, such as door alarms, pressure mats and GPS tracking devices which could make a huge difference to alerting you should your parent go missing. These devices can help identify your parent’s location, so they can be returned home safely. The Alzheimer’s Society have more information on Assistive Technology and Dementia.
- Put signs and labels on doors to indicate where your parent is in the house. Black writing on yellow signs has been identified as the easiest to read and understand.
- Consider placing coats and keys out of view to stop any impulsive walks.
- If your parent is prone to getting agitated late afternoon or evening, they may be suffering from ‘sundowning’. Before they usually start to get restless, suggest going for a walk with them.
- If your parent has recently moved, show them around the area and their new home to help them feel more settled in their new surroundings.
- Check that they are not in any discomfort and ask a GP for help if you are concerned.
What actions to take if your parent with dementia goes missing:
- Call 999.
- Tell the police that your parent has dementia and the location where they went missing from including the time.
- Tell them you have a completed Herbert Protocol form.
- Inform the police what your parent was last seen wearing. This is especially important if they are not dressed for the weather conditions.
- If known, tell the police what your parent’s emotional state was prior to them going missing.
- If they have been missing before, state where they were found and the route they took.
Herbert Protocol Questions and Answers
Reassure him that he is safe and get him back into his usual routine as soon as possible.
We also understand how hard it can be when you take the role as carer for your parent, our blog may help inspire you to take time to care for yourself too.
As soon as you notice the early signs of dementia it is a good idea to sit down with your parent and ask them questions and to use their answers to complete a Herbert Protocol form for your peace of mind.
The different types of dementia effect individuals differently and it will be beneficial to you and to your parent to understand the type of dementia they have and how best to treat them and lower the risk of them getting lost through wandering.
- Join our Dementia forum today to ask questions or to share your experiences
- Are you worried about dementia? Take some of the fear away in our free guide to Dementia.
MedicAlert. This is a non-profit membership organisation providing life-saving services, supported with an internationally recognised medical ID. Their membership offers peace of mind to thousands of people. In an emergency, first responders will have secure access to the wearer’s vital medical details from anywhere in the world.
Unforgettable . Founded by James Ashwell, who was led to found Unforgettable after caring for his mother. This website features useful products and services to help people living with dementia lead a better life.
The Alzheimer’s Society. This charity provides useful information about dementia, offers advice and encourages people to get involved to join the fight against dementia.
Dementia Action Alliance. This is the alliance for organisations across England to connect, share best practices and take action on dementia.
Expert advice on Dementia
If you want to listen to more information about Dementia, an episode of the Age Space Podcast on Dementia is now available. In it, we talk to Dementia expert Dr Alex Bailey about services and support available for carers.