A NEIGHBOURHOOD Watch style scheme which finds people with dementia when they go missing has been pioneered in Oxfordshire.
Health chiefs have been given £191,000 to roll out the Neighbourhood Return scheme across the county and country.
Experts estimate more than 460 Oxfordshire dementia sufferers go missing for the first time each year, and about 40 per cent of those in Oxfordshire care homes are there because they have repeatedly wandered away from facilities.
NHS Oxfordshire, the county’s primary care trust, believes more than 8,000 Oxfordshire people will have been diagnosed with dementia by 2016 – a 20 per cent increase from 2010.
The Neighbourhood Return project has been devised by Oxford Dr Rupert McShane, a consultant old age psychiatrist with the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.
Dr McShane, who is based at the Warneford Mental Health Hospital, said when sufferers of dementia go missing it is often the final straw for families and carers in deciding they cannot cope and putting their loved one into a home.
He said: “It’s something that people talk about when they come to clinics.
“It’s an extremely stressful thing for carers when their loved one goes missing.”
The scheme, which was recently trialled in Deddington, near Banbury, will work by getting carers to register details which might be useful if their relative gets lost – such as contact phone numbers, a photo, likely places to look and information about essential medication.
Then, if they do go missing, a team of local volunteers will receive a text to say that a person with dementia is lost in their neighbourhood, and will go out and help look for them.
It works with the existing Neighbourhood Watch scheme, which will give people signing up to the programme the option to also sign up to Neighbourhood Return.
About 50,000 people have already registered across the Thames Valley Police area, ready for when the project goes live later this year.
But people running the scheme say they still need more.
Project manager Richard Pantlin said: “We estimate that over 460 people with dementia across Oxfordshire get lost per annum for the first time.
“This can cause great distress to family and carers.
“It can also involve the police in searches.
“Returning a lost person safely more quickly, gives peace of mind to their family, reduces the demands on the police and hopefully reduces care home admissions longer term to benefit family and the county council financially.”
Dr McShane added: “This isn’t a panacea. It isn’t going to sort out the problem completely.
“But this innovative scheme is designed to locate missing people with dementia as quickly as possible, reducing their anxiety and that of their families.”
The project is being run with £191,000 of Big Lottery funding and is being supported by Thames Valley Police, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, and Age UK Oxfordshire.
If all goes to plan the running of the service – which will be rolled out in Northamptonshire after it has gone live in Oxfordshire – will be completely taken over by the Neighbourhood Watch programme once it is set up.
To register for the scheme, see the website
GUINEA PIGS WECOME SCHEME
BRIAN Bushell whose wife Kathleen passed away in 2010 aged 75, after being diagnosed with dementia, welcomed the scheme.
Mr Bushnell and fellow Deddington resident Wendy Burrows, pictured with him, took part in a first test run of the programme in the village, in which a local volunteer pretended to be lost.
The volunteer was successfully found by a team of 12 community ‘returners’. Grandfather-of-two Mr Bushell said his wife did not go missing as the aggressive form of dementia she suffered with led to her losing the power to walk.
But he said his volunteer work with a number of other carers and dementia groups meant he realised the enormity of the problem.
The 76-year-old said: “I heard of one woman who went missing in her nightie during the night and was found four miles away.
“It is a huge worry for people.
“I know when Kathleen was diagnosed I said she would only go into a home over my dead body.
“I know everyone’s situation is different but anything which keeps people out of homes is a great thing.
“I think Kathleen herself would have thought this was a great idea.”