Photo: Bruno Martins, Unsplash
The prevalence of persons living with dementia is increasing. The chances these individuals go missing is also rising. Researchers have recently reported their findings of a study conducted in three Canadian provinces about an alert system known as “Community ASAP”. Community ASAP is a mobile alert system that engages community citizens, as volunteers to look for people with dementia reported missing. The study was conducted in connection with caregivers of people living with dementia, local police services, search and rescue organizations and health and social service providers. The volunteers using the system receive an alert and act as an extra set of eyes to help locate the vulnerable individual reported missing. Consequences associated with missing people with lower mental capacity are serious, and include death, injury, dehydration, exposure to extreme temperatures and more. Response time is thus critical to avoid a negative outcome.
There are widely known mass-notification programs that result in notices to phones. Everything from severe weather warnings, hazards, to Amber Alerts for missing kids. Given that the number of vulnerable adults going missing far exceeds the number of children abducted (Amber Alert), there is a risk of media fatigue if each vulnerable adult triggered such an alert. The study evaluated the accuracy and usability of a mobile application (Community ASAP) that allows first responders to alert community volunteers of missing older vulnerable adults.
What is Community ASAP?
It is a localized area alert system for missing persons with dementia. It allows community volunteers, local businesses and police services to work together to recognize and locate a missing person. The mobile application is available online, on iOS, or Android. Community volunteers sign up by providing their contact details and preferred method of notification (SMS, email, app). They receive alerts based on their geographical preferences (1, 3, 6, 12, 25 km radius). Many volunteers choose their home and work addresses as specific locations. The volunteers are coached to keep an eye out for a vulnerable person reported missing, and to only report if they see someone matching the description of a person reported missing.
A Community ASAP Coordinator (usually a police service) populates the app with the description of the vulnerable older adult once they are missing. Typically the care partner would report their loved one as missing, and would provide as many details as possible about them (height, age, weight, description of clothing, eye colour, hair colour, level of mobility, favourite locations to visit etc.) to provide guidance to the community volunteers. When a care partner reports their loved one as missing (ie: 911 in Canada), the dispatcher collects the intake information and forwards internally to populate the Community ASAP profile. If volunteers see the missing person, they use the features embedded within the app to contact the emergency number, where police are dispatched to confirm the report and assist the missing person.
What did the Study Find?
While the results are detailed, and can be read in full at the link below, the consensus was that there was value in the program. “Participants stated that Community ASAP was a novel concept and a useful tool to help community members locate persons living with dementia who become lost. It could result in having more ‘eyes on the ground’, which could reduce the time and resources required from police services…”
It was noted that many social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook etc.) can broadcast messages about missing people. However, due to the large amount of additional information on the platform (ads etc.), it can be confusing and easy to miss certain information. Having a platform such as Community ASAP that does not have any other clutter greatly increases the reliability of the information and ability for community volunteers to filter the necessary information. Overall, volunteers found the platform to be easy to use and intuitive.
There was an identified risk of being able to prey on vulnerable people with the release of personally identifiable information about vulnerable older adults to volunteers, due to the possibility of misuse, thus putting the vulnerable person in danger. This risk must be managed and balanced with the potential upside that comes from a group of individuals being able to act quickly when a vulnerable adult is noted as missing.
The full study report can be accessed here: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0254952