National / Social Issues

Japanese city to use vein data to identify lost dementia sufferers

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

In a possible first for Japan, the city of Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, will start an experiment to register the vein data of elderly residents with dementia so they can be instantly identified if they wander off and are found without an ID.

The project, to start in April, will use a vein authentication system developed by software firm Climb Co., based in the neighboring city of Takasaki, Maebashi Mayor Ryu Yamamoto announced at a news conference on Wednesday.

The city currently offers GPS tracking devices for about 30 residents. But such devices — which can be attached to shoes or canes — are of no use when left behind, Yamamoto said.

Climb President Osamu Kanai said the firm favors palm vein authentication because, of all biometrics technologies currently available, it is the most reliable and convenient.

“The most famous of all ID methods is fingerprints, but 3 percent of the population have no fingerprints, including people in jobs that require them to sharpen knives,” Kanai said. “Vein data are the best because there’s no one without veins, and they are easier to handle than DNA data, which have the highest degree of accuracy but take time to collect.”

Kanai said the goal is to make the identification process faster, avoiding cases in which individuals cannot be identified and have to remain in municipal government care.

As of Dec. 1, Maebashi had 10,142 people diagnosed with dementia who were in need of some kind of public support, a city official said. The city expects up to 100 people to try the vein ID system.

Kanai acknowledged, however, that the project needs to spread beyond Maebashi to be fully functional, as people cannot be identified if they wander off into cities where the system is not in use.

He said the firm will urge municipalities nationwide to adopt the same system and create a network.

Another detail the city and firm will need to nail down is how to deal with requests for identification at night and on weekends. For now, they plan to respond to requests only during office hours.

The number of people with dementia who go missing is on the rise, as the nation grays and the ranks of people with dementia grow. A record 12,208 people with dementia were reported missing after going for a walk alone in 2015, the National Police Agency said in June. The figure is up 1,425, or 13.2 percent, from the previous year.

The same year, 12,121 people were located, of whom nearly 70 percent, or 8,310, were found on the day they went missing. Almost 98 percent, or 11,872, were tracked down within a week. But 479 were found dead and 150 remain missing, including those who disappeared before 2015, according to the agency.

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