Devising ways to quickly find senior citizens can save lives

The number of people with dementia who go missing is increasing year by year. The central and local governments should work to create a system to safely protect such people.

Last year, 17,636 cases of missing people with dementia were reported to the police nationwide, marking a record high for the ninth consecutive year. Of these, more than 90% were 70 or older.

Most were ultimately safe, but as many as 450 people were found dead for reasons that included being struck by a train while wandering around. There were also people who were frozen to death or drowned to death after falling into irrigation ditches.

Missing persons must be quickly located and protected, to save their lives.

In some cases, dementia can cause symptoms such as having no idea where one is, or losing track of the date and time. It is not uncommon for people with dementia to go out but forget their intended destination, get lost and be unable to return home.

Physically strong people with dementia sometimes walk far beyond their normal range of activity. In some cases, they travel by train or other means of transportation. In that case, it is difficult for family members to find them on their own.

The city of Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, is lending out Global Positioning System devices free of charge for elderly people with dementia. The device is attached to their shoes or clothes, and when their whereabouts are unknown, the city’s outsourced monitoring center checks their location and notifies their families.

Center staff or police officers rush to the scene when family members cannot go. More than 1,300 people have been found since the system was launched in 2015, according to the city.

It is vital for local governments to use information technology effectively and take preventive measures on their own. It is hoped that they will actively support families that are concerned about elderly relatives wandering around.

The survival rate is over 80% for people who are found on the day they go missing, but some studies show the number of deaths increases as time passes. It is crucial to find people quickly.

A woman was found dead in Kushiro, Hokkaido, in 1990 four days after she went to take out the garbage and did not return. In the wake of this incident, the city and its surrounding municipalities established a network with such entities as taxi companies and a local FM radio station.

When a search request is made by a family member, details about the missing person are conveyed to relevant organizations through the police. The radio station broadcasts the information and asks local residents for help. Taxi drivers also keep an eye out for the person.

In 2025, there are expected to be about 7 million elderly people with dementia in Japan. The central government needs to strive to improve monitoring systems in local communities, through such measures as enhancing cooperation among local governments.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 20, 2022)