The Yomiuri ShimbunEven if a person with dementia gets lost on the streets, they can return home. Even if they go missing, they can quickly be found. To realize this, society should aim to bolster community steps to protect and watch over people with dementia.
In 2018, a record-high 16,927 people with dementia were reported to police as missing. This was an increase of more than 1,000 people from 2017. Ninety percent of the people reported missing were aged 70 or older.
Most of the missing people whose whereabouts were later confirmed during 2018 were found safe within one week. However, more than 500 died after becoming emaciated on the streets or falling into waterways.
The number of people suffering from dementia will continue to grow. Given that the risk of people going missing will therefore increase, devising measures to deal with this issue is an urgent task. It is normal for people with dementia to go outside. Rather than just shutting them indoors, methods for keeping them safe must be considered on the assumption that they will go outside.
First of all, families of dementia sufferers must take steps to help keep them safe. Such steps might include having a person with dementia carry a mobile phone equipped with the Global Positioning System function or attaching a tracking device to their shoes or walking stick.
The number of elderly people living alone is skyrocketing, and many of them also will develop dementia. It is essential that nursing care staffers and local welfare staff keep a close eye on elderly people living by themselves.
Team effort required
Some people with dementia are unable to say their own name or address. If an elderly person appears distressed or disoriented on the street, passersby should actively ask if they need help.
Moves to train “community dementia supporters,” who recognize symptoms of dementia and can lend a helping hand to people with dementia, are being made across the nation. Increasing such human resources will be helpful.
The roles of local governments and the police also are vital. Many local governments, such as those of Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture, and Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, send a mass email to local residents after a person has been reported missing and call on them to notify authorities if they have seen the person.
The Gunma prefectural police have introduced a registration system that contains facial photos and palm vein data of elderly people with dementia. More than 1,100 people are registered on the system, which is used to identify people who have been found after going missing.
It also is possible that people with dementia could move around wide areas, such as by boarding trains. The police and local authorities must deal with such cases by working closely together and across the bounds of their organizations and areas under their jurisdiction.
The case of a man suffering dementia who wandered off and was struck by a train became a major social issue when the railway operator sued the man’s family for a huge amount in damages for train delays caused by the accident.
In the past few years, some local governments have started preparing for new risks involving dementia sufferers by establishing systems through which insurance will cover claims for damages arising from accidents.
It is crucial to build safety nets that will enable dementia sufferers and the families who care for them to live with peace of mind.