Sheriff’s office offers scent kits to help families find missing relatives with autism, dementia

The Cook County sheriff’s office will start providing scent kits and training to the public to help with missing person investigations for at-risk people with autism or dementia.

Scent kits allow caregivers to capture the scent of a loved one to help police dogs track them in the event that they wander away from home, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office.

“Caregivers who have to worry that a loved one might wander off and become lost and injured need our help,” Sheriff Tom Dart said in the statement. “We handle too many of these cases and they are terrifying for the family. We have to do what we can to help mitigate the chances of wandering and improve the chances of finding someone quickly.”

About half of children with autism aged 14 or younger and about 60 percent of people with dementia are at risk of wandering away from caregivers, the sheriff’s office said. The office handled a total of 227 missing person cases in 2019.

In addition to making the kits available, the sheriff’s office said it held its first training session about wandering for families and social service providers on Monday at Little City in Palatine.

“We know through research, and from the experiences shared by our community, that wandering is a challenge for some children and adults with autism,” Colleen Shinn, director of community outreach for Autism Speaks, said in the statement. “This can be dangerous and tremendously stressful for all involved, but with the right resources and information, families and communities can develop a multifaceted safety plan to prepare for and prevent wandering,”

Scent kits can be stored in a cold location for up to 10 years, the sheriff’s office said. Members of the public can request kits online, by calling the sheriff’s office non-emergency line at 847-635-1188 or by emailing