We’re sad to report that the body of 87-year-old missing Perth man, Alexander Henderson, has been found at Whitfords Beach, not far from his home.

Mr Henderson, who had severe dementia and hearing loss, went missing from his home in the Perth suburb of Hillarys last Thursday and had not been seen since, despite extensive searching in the area.

His family issued a plea to the public for help in the search, and said they were deeply concerned about his wellbeing. Now their gravest fears have been realised, with a member of the official search party locating the body on Wednesday.

The family of course are devastated by the news.

Superintendent Scott Warner said, “Mr Henderson’s family are understandably extremely upset by the discovery, and our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.”

“This is another tragic example of the challenges that families face when dealing with a family member who suffers from dementia,” he said.

There will be an investigation into Mr Henderson’s death, and police will prepare a report for the coroner.

The often tragic consequences when people with dementia become lost

Sadly, it is not an uncommon occurrence for a person who is living with dementia to leave their home, and continue walking, inadvertently becoming lost – and potentially putting themselves in grave danger. Many do not survive the experience.

In June this year, Ian Collett, who had dementia, left his Canning Vale home in Perth, and was found deceased by the side of a highway 17 days later.

And in October last year, 79-year-old Anne Cameron, who had dementia, was attacked by crocodiles after she left her nursing home and walked into dense bushland, becoming lost.

Preserving the safety of people living with dementia

How can we ensure that people who are living with dementia remain safe, even if they do have a tendency to walk about?

While we must respect the dignity of people living with dementia, and acknowledge that they may want to accept a degree of risk, and continue making choices about their lives, we must also ensure they are safe.

To prevent someone with dementia leaving their home unaccompanied and putting themselves in harm’s way, there are a number of things you can do.

  • Provide a regular routine so they know certain activities will take place at certain times.
  • Plan activities for times when you think the person may want to go out.
  • Reassure the person if they begin to talk about ‘going home’ or ‘going to work’. For example, you could say words to the effect, ‘We’re staying here today. We’re safe here.’
  • Ensure their needs are met. Are they warm or cool enough? Do they have enough food and drink? Do they need to go to the toilet?
  • Avoid busy places, such as shopping malls, which can be confusing for people with dementia.
  • Use a device that signals when a person opens a door, such as a bell or an electronic alarm.
  • Don’t leave someone with dementia unsupervised if the surroundings are new or different.
  • Keep car keys out of sight, especially if the person is no longer able to drive.

What should you do if you see someone you think has dementia and they appear lost?

If you see an older person who appears confused, frightened or lost, approach them and speak to them in a reassuring way. Ask them if there’s someone you can call who can help them. If not, you can call the police.

Wait with the person until the police arrive, if possible in a quiet place, away from noise and bright lights.

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