She was pushing a bicycle. She was kind of disheveled. Despite the rain, she didn’t have an umbrella. When Yamamoto spoke to the woman, she said she was trying to get to the city of Kamisuwa. That’s about four hours away by train.
Yamamoto recognized that the woman had several signs of dementia he’d learned about when he took his city’s dementia awareness training.
Yamamoto volunteers with Matsudo’s Orange Patrol. The organization’s formal name in Japanese — Olenji koe kake tai — translates awkwardly into English as “Troop that calls out to the elderly.” But the name accurately describes what the members do. Yamamoto says that just a simple, “Hello, what a nice day,” can tell you if someone is OK or needs help.
Because of his training, Yamamoto says, he knew how to talk with the old woman pushing the bicycle.
“I talked to her about things that, according to the training manual, would not upset her,” he says. “And I spoke in a gentle manner.” These things helped him convince the woman to stay with him until the police arrived about 20 minutes later.
If it hadn’t been for her chance encounter with Yamamoto, the woman might have gone missing, or worse. Last year in Japan, 12,208 people with dementia were reported missing. Most were found alive within a week. But 479 were found dead, and 150 were never found.
These numbers have been increasing every year as the number of older people in Japan continues to rise. Nearly 27 percent of the Japanese population is now 65 or older. And, as the number of older people grows, so does the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. The Japanese government expects that by 2025 more than 7 million of the nation’s residents will have dementia.
A comprehensive plan for dealing …