In Japan, thousands of dementia patients go missing every year – but AI could soon help find them

A Japanese company is developing an artificial intelligence-based technology to identify the distinctive movements of elderly dementia patients, helping carers and local authorities to track those who go missing.

Ridgelinez, a subsidiary of technology giant Fujitsu Ltd, is partnering with the Osaka-based National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Centre Hospital and Noel, a Nagoya-based developer of AI solutions, on the project. The group started trials last month.

Fujitsu’s human-motion sensing technology is being used by Ridgelinez to create a new algorithm that “scans and identifies the gait of elderly people suffering from dementia”, a spokesman for the company told This Week in Asia.

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Japan’s population falls rapidly in 2023, losing the equivalent of San Francisco

Japan’s population falls rapidly in 2023, losing the equivalent of San Francisco

Studies have shown that dementia patients tend to drag their feet or take noticeably shorter steps. The technology identifies such walking patterns as well as the movements of around 20 other parts of the body, including the head and knees.

Deployed via security cameras in public places and shops, the system will allow authorities or carers to locate people who have wandered off from their homes or care facilities and potentially track their movements until they can be located.

“The application of technologies like AI and advanced 3D sensing will play an important part in realising a society in which people with dementia can enjoy greater independence in their daily lives, without sacrificing their dignity or privacy,” said the Ridgelinez spokesman, who declined to be named.

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“Ridgelinez is also conducting research in rule-making to ensure a robust ethical framework for new solutions and real-world implementation of the technology.”

He added that the developers are aiming to introduce the system around 2028, with further tests in a public environment expected to be conducted by 2027.

The motion-sensing technology began life as a Fujitsu system co-developed with the International Gymnastics Federation to help judges analyse and score the performances of gymnasts.

A record 18,709 people in Japan with dementia were reported missing in the financial year to April 1, 2023, up 1,073 cases from the previous year. Although most of them were located – with over 75 per cent found on the same day that missing person reports were filed with police – some 491 people were later confirmed to have died.

Of the missing person cases, 57 per cent were aged 80 or older while 37.2 per cent were in their 70s. Police said that 284 of the people who were reported missing had not been located by the end of the financial year.

The number of people going missing in Japan rose for the 10th consecutive year, with experts warning that dementia poses a growing challenge for a society that is experiencing rapid ageing. It’s estimated that dementia could affect one in every five people over the age of 65 in the country by 2025.

The Japanese government last year passed new legislation aimed at reducing the number of missing person cases and improving dementia care.

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