Missing persons and dementia

NSW missing person Youliang Lin

On the 15 September 2017, Youliang Lin took himself for a walk. A seemingly normal activity for most people however, Youliang suffered from dementia and thus required ongoing support from his family to ensure his safety when he had ongoing bouts of memory loss. Unfortunately it was on this day that Youliang did not return home and sadly has not been seen since.

Youliang’s granddaughter Helen and his daughter Dan spent some time reflecting about their loved “patriarchs” life;

“He was a kind, sweet, quiet and peaceful man. Always putting people before himself,” Helen says.

With a large family of 7 grandchildren and 3 children, Youliang enjoyed cooking meals that they could all enjoy together whether it be in their small apartment back in China or in their residence in Castle Hill, Sydney; no space was too small for the Lin family and Youliang was always taking in “stragglers” who he felt could enjoy his cooking and company also. This is a perfect reflection of the warm hearted and caring person described by Dan and Helen.

Youliang, along with over 425,000 other Australians suffer from dementia. Demential is a term used to describe the symptoms of a large group of illnesses which cause a progressive decline in a person's mental functioning.

Prior to Youliang’s disappearance, he had gone wandering before. Helen recalls that her grandad would often enjoy a daily walk and would frequently walk to the shops. It was on some of these occasions that Youliang would become confused and unsure of his surroundings.

It was these instances that sparked a family decision to no longer allow Youliang to leave the house on his own, for his own safety.

While discussing the immediate aftermath of her grandfather’s disappearance, Helen reflects on the overwhelming public support and astonishing efforts from the Australian/Chinese community in particular. With over 200 volunteers searching the suburbs, nearby bushland and national parks, as well as the systematic approach to the search by relative strangers, the Lin family describe their response as being “really, touched, surprised and heartened”.

There was an individual standout by a community member who spent her days combing Sydney suburbs in search of Youliang. This person was not known to the Lin family prior to Youliang’s disappearance however, she would spend her days combing the streets for answers. It is kind hearted people like this who demonstrate how widely affected and responsive a community can be in instances of a person going missing.

When asked what advice they would like to provide to other families who may be supporting a loved one who suffers from dementia, Helen replies;

“In our situation the family were aware of what was happening with my grandfather’s situation but we weren’t really open about it with his friends and their social group, and so my Mum wonders whether if we had worked more in building that support network with their friends that maybe it would have been easier, just to have more people able to understand what was going on and be supportive, so you’re not so alone.

The day he went missing he actually did run into some of his friends while he was walking and they didn’t realise what the situation was, so they didn’t see anything that was wrong. They had just chatted a bit and he kept on going.”

Further advice from the Lin family is to “Take each day as it comes and take every happy day as a win and give yourself some validation. You are not alone and there are others in a similar situation.”

For further information on dementia, please visit the Dementia Australia website here.

Youliang left his home on Cooper Court, Castle Hill about 8am on Friday 15 September 2017 and sadly he has not been seen since. He was 84 years old at the time of his disappearance.

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