Su Xiao, 49, and Xu Guangchun, 42, are like-minded souls on the streets of Beijing, checking surveillance cameras and checking passers-by, with an almost constant barrage of calls on their phones.
They are looking for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease, a serious illness that can easily erase a patient’s memory and other major mental functions.
Seven years ago, Su and Xu co-founded the Beijing Voluntary Emergency Rescue Service Center, which launched a public welfare campaign to help families find their lost elders in 2016.
Outdoor sports enthusiast Su is a seasoned mountain rescue professional. On New Years Day 2016, he was on his way to a nearby ski resort where he met an apathetic and pale elderly woman who was holding a bag and trembling with cold under a bridge.
She mumbled, saying that she was about to buy noodles for her son, and reminded Su of her grandmother, a patient with Alzheimer’s disease.
“A lady of her age and with such health problems was most likely unable to care for her children,” he said.
Su reported the situation to the police and they found a piece of paper with a contact number in her pocket. It turned out that days had passed since she lost contact with her family and traveled more than 40 kilometers from her home in southwest Beijing to an unknown neighborhood in the city. east of town.
âBefore going home, the old lady just grabbed me, begging me to give her some food stamps so that she could go and buy noodles,â Su said. However, food stamps have not been used for decades, being relics of a time when China had a centrally planned economy.
Although they lose almost all of their recent memories, patients with the disease often have vivid memories of things that happened a long time ago.
They can easily get lost, even in familiar surroundings. Once lost, they can succumb to the elements.
According to statistics revealed by a white paper published in 2016 by the Zhongmin Social Assistance Institute, around 500,000 elderly people get lost each year, of which around 80% are over 65. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the main reasons for their disappearance.
Su and her rescue team first watch surveillance videos to sort out clues before further rescue efforts, and rely on the older person’s experiences in their childhood and youth to seek them out.
He once managed to find an 80-year-old man along a river in a Beijing suburb, based on the life experience of an elderly person who lived on a river boat.
The youngest person they found was in their 40s, Su said, adding that patients under the age of 60 are difficult for family members and others to spot, let alone those who consider disease as disturbing and do not want to confide in their neighbors. , relatives or friends.
Su and Xu’s “lost and found” department sent more than 320 elderly people home safe and sound. More than 500 volunteers, including some family members of those they found, joined the rescue team.
âThe more we walk, the closer the lost elders come to their homes,â Su said.