The Yomiuri Shimbun
Sharing information on missing elderly people with dementia crucial
There is no end to cases of elderly people with dementia going missing. It is crucial that the system used to help identify missing dementia patients functions effectively so they can be reunited with their families quickly.
In 2012, police received 9,607 missing-person reports for patients with dementia, and the number rose to 10,322 in 2013. Of them, 258 people were unaccounted for as of the end of April.
In many cases, elderly people with dementia who went missing were taken into protective custody later by the municipalities and moved into nursing care facilities, ultimately remaining there as they could not be identified.
A woman with dementia who had been put into a nursing care facility in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, was reunited in mid-May with her husband after seven years. Their reunion was made possible thanks to a TV news program featuring her.
An elderly man with dementia who was living at a home for the elderly in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture, was identified on June 5 by relatives who had seen news reports featuring him late last month and made contact with him. Eighteen years had passed since he went missing and was placed under protective custody.
In both cases, the local municipalities and the police exchanged very little information, and no careful checks were made of the National Police Agency’s database after these elderly people were moved into nursing care facilities.
If such people cannot be identified within 24 hours after they are placed under protective custody, the police, in accordance with the Law concerning the Execution of Police Duties, will put them in the care of the municipalities.
No regulations in place
The problem is there are no regulations concerning the sharing of information between these entities after such people are put in the care of local municipalities. It is inevitable for such inappropriate responses to be criticized as ill effects of bureaucratic sectionalism.
The NPA has notified the Metropolitan Police Department and other prefectural police headquarters that they should cooperate with local municipal governments even after they have such elderly people placed in the care of the municipalities.
Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura said at a press conference on Friday, “We have to build a system to match up those who have gone missing and those who are looking for them,” hinting that the ministry will launch discussions with the NPA and other entities. Such efforts must be expedited to make such ideas a reality.
Also needed is a system that considers the characteristics of those with dementia who are unable to identify themselves.
With regards to the police’s missing person database, information searches can be made only by name. The NPA has said it will also utilize its database used for criminal investigations, in which searches can be made using various kinds of information, including physical characteristics and personal belongings.
The NPA will also have such information compiled by local municipalities, including photographs, on those placed under their care distributed among prefectural police headquarters and local police stations, so families searching for their missing relatives can examine them at nearby police stations and other places.
We hope these efforts can help identify missing dementia patients quickly.
More and more local municipalities have registered elderly people who are likely to wander away, and have asked local residents via e-mail to cooperate in finding them in case they go missing. Cooperation among local residents, municipalities and police is also essential.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 10, 2014)