New app helps Scots help neighbours with dementia

Technology brings communities and services together to help find people with dementia who go missing

Tuesday 4th June 2019

A new community-minded app is giving Scots the opportunity to help the families and carers of people with dementia when they go missing.

Purple Alert is a free app designed by people with experience of the condition, Alzheimer Scotland staff, Police Scotland and partners from across the public sector.

When a carer sends an alert, all users in a 30-mile radius get a notification that contains an up-to-date photo of the missing person, information about them and places they enjoy going to.

Since it went live two years ago, ten alerts have been found safe and well within four hours.

Joyce Gray of Alzheimer Scotland says her organisation has been “absolutely blown away” with the response, with nearly 8,000 downloads ahead of the app’s second birthday in September.

“What we are finding is that younger people are just loving becoming part of the community. People are becoming really willing participants,” she tells healthandcare.scot.

With 90,000 people in Scotland living with dementia, many will know a friend or family member who has been touched by the condition and Purple Alert appears to have tapped into this sense of community.

One East Ayrshire village, Stewarton, became a Purple Alert community after a week-long awareness-raising campaign, making the community safer for people with dementia.

And some local councils are looking into installing the app on all their care staff’s work phones.

“There’s a really nice dialogue,” Joyce continues. “[When someone goes missing] people are sending updates and saying ‘we’re out looking’. So, the carer in that period of time, when they’re absolutely at their wits’ end, can see that some people are engaging with it and are out there looking. It gives a sense of reassurance that folk are out there doing the best they can.”

When the charity began looking into producing the app five years ago, there was nothing on the market.

Early on, it was decided the app would be led by the carers and families and that they would make the decision to issue an alert, not the charity.

It’s designed to be completely user-friendly, with nothing more than three clicks away.

The information on the app is a digital version of the Herbert Protocol, a UK-wide police scheme encouraging families and carers to complete a form with vital information that can be located quickly and given to police if someone goes missing.

The initiative is named after George Herbert, a D-Day veteran living with dementia who died while missing and trying to find his childhood home.

The charity is also working on adding a ‘missing occurrence’ feature, so that if the person being cared for has gone missing, carers will be able to have a log of places, timings and comments related to each missing occurrence.

Alzheimer Scotland stress carers should dial 999 before triggering an alert, which sits alongside the police response.