Views on using face-matching technology and an online form to locate missing family members with dementia faster are being assessed in a new study.

Those who have experienced a family member going missing are being invited to take part in the UCL Stay Safe study. The study is being led by University College London (UCL) and supported by Join Dementia Research. 

Paper forms are currently the most common method used to report people with dementia going missing. Researchers want to find out whether technology can make the process faster, safer and less stressful. They also want to explore families’ views on this technology and identify any barriers to its use, such as concerns to risk of privacy. 

Why is this research important?

Around 40,000 people with dementia go missing annually in the UK, which can be very stressful for families. 

The main reason for this is because dementia causes short-term memory loss. This leads to people getting lost and confused while they are walking, meaning they are unable to find their way home. Those who are not found within 24 hours are more likely to be at risk of serious injury or death. 

This study aims to provide evidence that families support the use of technology as common practice for when someone with dementia goes missing. It is hoped that this will help locate them faster, reducing stress for families and risk of harm to the person. 

It may also reduce the cost of dementia-related missing person investigations in the UK. This currently stands at £350 million per year.

What does the study involve?

The study involves interviewing participants in two separate sessions. Participants can take part in one or both sessions.  

The first focuses on participants’ views and experiences of what happens when someone with dementia goes missing. They will discuss how families prevent or resolve it as quickly as possible and which strategies may help. 

The second focuses on their views on using digital technology to report someone with dementia missing. They are also asked about the potential value of using face-matching technology to locate them and any concerns about its use.

Interviews can take place in person at UCL or the participant’s home, over the phone or via a Zoom call. The study aims to recruit 15 participants from across the UK and is open until September 2024. 

Creating safer communities for people with dementia

Dr Vasiliki Orgeta, the study’s chief investigator, said: “We have spoken to 5 family carers about their experiences of a missing episode, who told us about how stressful these incidents are. They have also said there is a lack of support and guidance on what to do. 

“Evidence here in the UK and abroad has consistently shown that people with dementia are at increased risk of severe harm when going missing compared to other at-risk populations, such as adults with mental health problems and children living in care. This harm could be a serious injury or, in the worst cases, death. Therefore, there is an urgent need to use novel and safe interventions, to prevent harm and support families affected. 

“To do this, we must first speak to more people who have experienced this situation before about their lived experiences and services they use. We are also seeking their views on whether digital reporting is acceptable. 

“This will help us develop a digital intervention in the future that is safe and can help locate people faster. Working closely with people with dementia, families, and professionals we can develop an intervention that could be made more widely available, for example through NHS services.  

“Our long-term vision is to create safer communities for people with dementia and their families affected by missing episodes.” 

To find out if you are eligible to take part in a dementia study, sign in to your Join Dementia Research account or, if you are not already registered, sign up today.