Photo/IllutrationIruma city hall’s phone number is displayed on a smartphone screen when the fingernail sticker bearing a Quick Response code is read. (Provided by the Iruma city government)

IRUMA, Saitama Prefecture--As a growing number of senior citizens suffering from dementia are going missing, city authorities here are using fingernail stickers featuring Quick Response (QR) codes to find and identify those who wander off.

Working with a private company, the Iruma city government will distribute special stickers designed to be put on nails of dementia patients so that they can be identified easily and quickly based on the information stored via the QR code on the labels, which can be read using a smartphone app.

“We hope the technology will help confirm identities promptly and contribute to support for elderly people and their families,” said a city official, expressing expectations for the project, the first of its kind by a local government in Japan.

Under the new identification system, sticky labels to be placed on nails, which were developed by information technology consulting firm Orange Links, based in Iruma, are used.

QR codes are printed on the stickers each measuring 1 centimeter by 1 cm. If they are put on dementia patients’ nails, they can be easily identified even when the individual ventures out shoeless with no bags.

The labels do not peel off easily in the first two weeks, according to officials.

The printed QR codes include Iruma city hall’s phone number and the identification number assigned by the municipality to each individual.

When the codes are read with a smartphone app, the phone number of the city hall is displayed so that people who find missing people can contact the municipality or report to police, making it possible for missing elderly citizens to be quickly identified, officials said.

In a trial conducted between December 2015 and February 2016, the city obtained consent from families of 11 dementia patients to place the sticker on their nails.

The effectiveness of the QR code identification system was proved for nine of the participants. While one subject peeled the sticker off the nail, the label for the other one came off because it had not been applied properly.

The annual number of missing cases of elderly people with dementia reported in Saitama Prefecture has been steadily rising. According to the prefectural police, 539 such instances were reported last year, more than triple the figure for 2012, the year when official records on those cases were first kept.

Meanwhile, prefectural authorities confirmed that there were 31 unidentified people in the prefecture as of the end of June this year. Detailed information on 18 of them are disclosed on the local government’s website after gaining their prior consent.

While 3,000 people in Iruma city are estimated to be suffering from dementia, the QR code system will only target patients taken care of at home who have a habit of wandering about alone.

Starting in late November, the city began distributing 16 stickers to each individual with dementia for free if requested by the family.

The municipality estimates around 35 such individuals will use the QR code label by the end of this fiscal year.