My 78-year-old dad, Robert Lim, who suffers from early-stage dementia, went missing for almost four days, but thanks to the generous acts of kindness from our extended families, friends and strangers, we managed to get him home safe and sound.

On Thursday evening (20 Aug), he became upset about something at home and slipped out of the house while he was presumably taking a shower.

My mum and sister who live with him in our Tanjong Rhu home were in but did not notice that he disappeared. My mum was on the phone and my sister was working from home. But they began to suspect something was amiss only when they realised that the water had been running for a long time. They went to check on him and discovered that he was gone.

This was the first time he left home without telling anyone.

We were not too sure how he left or what he wore when he did, but we made a police report immediately. The police came by very quickly and started gathering CCTV footage from the management office to start to track his whereabouts.

Even though he is in the early stages of dementia, my dad is still very sharp. He’s just stubborn. We put a slip of paper with our address and contact number in his wallet, but he took it out before he left the house!

As time passed, we became even more worried as my dad also suffers from other ailments such as hypertension and needs his daily insulin jabs for his diabetes.

My family, extended family and friends went on foot to search for my dad at MRT stations and places he frequented. We later collated a list of places that we searched, and realised that by searching within our own localities, we ended up covering almost the whole of Singapore!

My sister-in-law, Christine Sun, who is a real estate agent with a wide network of friends and contacts, also broadcasted an appeal on Facebook on 21 Aug that ended up being shared more than 1,000 times.

Finding missing dad with dementia in Singapore online
Image credit: Clifton Lim

To be honest, my family was a bit apprehensive to send out the appeal because recently there have been many cases of scams. But as it turns out, Singaporean netizens are very helpful.

Many people were aware that finding my dad was a race against time and it was important to act quickly. Several strangers called me and gave advice and tip offs.

I didn’t receive a single prank or scam call.

The MRT station staff and managers also took action swiftly. They looked at CCTV footage and said that they would alert me if they saw any sightings.

We are very grateful for everyone’s acts of kindness, whether big or small. Some were actively keeping a lookout, others shared the post on social media and among their own contacts. Many were praying for us and encouraging us.

Thankfully, my dad was found at Hougang on 23 Aug, almost four days after he disappeared.

Details are still vague but we suspect he took Bus 158 from Tanjong Rhu and subsequently took the MRT from Serangoon Interchange to Hougang. He has some affinity for Hougang, now that I recall. So it’s likely MRT staff helped him to purchase the ticket without suspecting anything amiss. He didn’t have an ez-link card but he had cash with him.

When we found him, he mentioned that he noticed that another elderly man had been observing him for the three days that he was wandering around Hougang, growing increasingly panicked and disoriented. My dad, who is a Christian, said he prayed and told God: “It’s either I die here, or you bring me home”.

It was then, my dad said, that the man who had been observing him came up to him and asked him, “What are you doing here?”

My dad told him that he had some problems and left home. The man told him, “No, that’s not how you deal with it.”

I think that after speaking with him, the man realised that my dad was not very coherent and he called the police, who came and took over from there.

We didn’t see the elderly man at the police station. I think he didn’t want to be identified.

My siblings and I are thinking of asking the police if we can reach out to him to thank him personally and give him a token of gratitude. But we’ve not got the chance to do so yet. So, if you’re reading this, uncle, thank you for reaching out to my dad.

I want to thank not just that unnamed man who helped us. Without the support and encouragement from everyone, we would have felt very lost.

After this episode, I realised that dementia patients and their caregivers need more support and understanding. I hope that there would be more dedicated agencies to check on and provide advice to caregivers as different families and patients face different challenges.

We also realised that we could have spoken to more people within the dementia community about my father’s condition. My friends and family gave us useful suggestions and options that we were not aware of, such as caregiver home support for a few hours to give the caregiver some respite.

It is such a relief for my dad to be home and I cannot express more gratitude to everyone who has been so kind to us throughout the entire ordeal.

Clifton Lim

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Top Image: Clifton Lim