About 4.62 million people aged 65 or older in Japan are estimated to suffer from dementia, and roughly 10,000 such people are reported missing each year. Although thousands of them are reunited with their family as they either return home on their own or are rescued after wandering about for days, weeks or months, hundreds of them are found dead, including some who are killed in accidents.

This serious issue needs greater public attention especially as the aging of the Japanese population continues to accelerate. Family members alone cannot be held responsible for protecting the elderly from these hazards. Community-based support mechanism involving public services, businesses and local residents will be needed.

One of the symptoms of dementia is orientation disturbance, in which people's sense of their identify, time or where they are becomes impaired. This can lead people to wander about aimlessly without knowing where they are headed. Last week, a 67-year-old woman who disappeared from her home in Tokyo in 2007 was reunited with her family at a care facility in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture. The woman, who has dementia and was unable to tell the police her name when she was taken into protective custody in the city seven years ago, was misidentified, which prevented a match in missing persons reports. Her recent appearance on an NHK TV program featuring the problem of senile dementia prompted her relatives to contact the broadcaster and locate her.