The number of people with dementia who were reported missing hit a record high in 2016, figures released Thursday show, highlighting the difficulty in dealing with elderly care in a rapidly aging society.
The National Police Agency said 15,432 people with dementia, including those suspected to be suffering from the condition, were reported missing in 2016, up 26.4 percent from the previous year. The upward trend has been constant since the agency started keeping statistics five years ago.
The agency’s data showed that the figure, which stood at 9,607 in 2012, surpassed 10,000 for a fourth consecutive year.
The whereabouts of 15,314 people were located in 2016, including those reported missing in preceding years, but 191 have yet to be found. Of those located, 15,069 were found within a week — the vast majority within the same day, the agency said.
The figures also showed that 471 were found dead while 44 were missing for more than two years.
The latest report comes after the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry estimated that the number of people with dementia would likely increase to about 7 million by 2025 — roughly 1½ times the 2015 total.
In an effort to better respond to the situation, the NPA has compiled a database of missing dementia patients, including their DNA information, body shapes and the clothing they were wearing when they disappeared. The information is provided by their families.
An increasing number of local governments and local police forces across the country have begun strengthening efforts to track down missing dementia patients.
In Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, the city government started renting GPS devices free of charge to the families of elderly patients in October 2015. Using the devices, 141 missing people have been found so far. In one of the successful cases, a woman in her 80s who disappeared from a nursing facility in the prefecture was found in Tokyo.
In Nara Prefecture, a missing man in his 60s was found and identified thanks to a sticker on his sandal, which had been provided by a local municipal government.
The police in neighboring Osaka Prefecture have increased tie-ups with local authorities regarding the exchange of information about dementia patients, including their conditions, names and addresses.
Local police are also striving to improve understanding of dementia through training courses being offered by the health ministry in an effort to ensure contact with patients in everyday life is trouble-free.