POLICE hope to build a database of Scotland’s dementia sufferers as they try to speed up their searches for vulnerable elderly people who go missing.

Senior officers have long warned that finding confused pensioners who “wander off” is taking up an increasing amount of their time and resources.

Chief Constable Phil Gormley has warned policing was facing a “dementia timebomb” as Police Scotland became the service of last resort for relatives and care homes dealing with missing dementia patients.

Now the force is looking at keeping detailed records of such high-risk people – such as where they or their children went to school or where they lived as a child.

Experts are currently assessing a pilot project in Lothian and Borders division, including Edinburgh’s suburbs, where notes are kept on potential missing persons.

Chief Inspector Lex Baillie, the officer in charge of missing persons, explained: “This is a huge deal for us. We treat people with Alzheimer’s who go missing the same way we do young children.

“A missing dementia patient really means the balloon goes up. So we can put together big teams of officers to search for them, sometimes using resources like a helicopter.”

The pilot project, which officers hope will get approval to be rolled out nationwide in the summer, is designed to help police pin down where an old person may have gone.

Mr Baillie explained: “We are talking about things like where their children went to school, where their parents are buried or where their spouse worked.” It can take too long to get such information after a person is reported missing, sources suggest.

Dementia sufferers are currently understood to account for fewer than one in 10 missing-persons cases. But, like those of young children or teenage runaways, they can account for a far bigger share of resources.

Mr Gormley has previously suggested his force needed to work more closely with other organisations to handle such people and other issues involving the vulnerable elderly, such as bogus callers.

He told The Herald: “Dementia is a very significant issue. If you talk to police they will frequently bring up this issue, one that absorbs a lot of their time. I think we have a legitimate role.

“We have the ability to find people. But there is a broader challenge of supporting an ageing population and we should ask if we are doing other people’s jobs.”

Police Scotland is currently looking at ways of reconfiguring its services to reflect the new reality that four out of five of its work is not related to crime, but to broader issues of vulnerability.

Officers, however, recognise that finding people, including missing elderly people, involves many of the same detective skills as solving crime.

The force is currently working with other partners, such as social work departments, on two other pilot projects for missing people, including NHS patients and young people in care.

This work is being carried out in conjunction with the Scottish Government. A spokesman said: “We have been working in partnership with Police Scotland leading experts in the field of missing people to develop Scotland’s first national framework for missing people.

“As part of this approach, Police Scotland has worked with community partners to deliver three pilots – on looked-after children who go missing from residential or foster care; adults who go missing from care homes in Scotland; and patients who go missing from NHS care in Scotland.

“The pilot evaluations will inform our work in finalising the framework to ensure evidence-based best practice can be adopted across Scotland. We anticipate the framework being launched by the summer.”

There have been several high-profile examples of elderly people dying before they could be found.

Last year a man, 83-year-old Henry Patterson of Bishopbriggs, died in hospital after being spotted by specialist search officers near the Forth and Clyde Canal. He had been missing for three days but doctors could not save him after he was found.

Also in 2016 84-year-old Last year Effie Clark, 84, was found dead after disappearing from her care home in Crieff at Hogmanay 2015. Police had used dogs and a helicopter to try and find her.

In 2015, the force apologised to the family of 88-year-old Janet McKay who was found dead in Clydebank five days after she was reported missing in Glasgow.