HEFEI, July 31 (Xinhua) -- Growing old has its problems. False teeth, lack of mobility, bladder problems and loss of memory are a few. To help,some Chinese communities are offering elderly people QR codes containing useful information in case they get lost and can't remember where they live.
Earlier this week, Dingxiang Community in Hefei City, Anhui Province, issued QR (Quick Response) code badges to eight elderly people who volunteered for a pilot project. The scheme is set to be expanded to cover more than 1,400 residents aged above 60 in the neighborhood.
The words "Please scan it and help me back home" are printed on the badge, which is the size of a postage stamp. Scanning the matrix barcode with a smartphone, a Good Samaritan may know the old person's name and contact information of his family and the community office.
"I'll wear it every time I go out. A big headache for us old people is wandering off," said user Qiao Zonglian, an 84-year-old woman.
Due to health problems, the elderly may easily become lost or suffer a sudden illness when away from home, said Ling Rui, a community worker. "In these situations, it's very important for strangers willing to help to immediately identify the person."
The predicament of missing elderly people, especially those living with Alzheimer's disease, was again brought under the spotlight after Li Xihui, a scholar, got lost on his way home three weeks ago. He was found five days later dozens of kilometers from his home in Beijing.
More than 1,000 people from Beijing Normal University, where Li works, searched for the 57-year-old law professor who possibly suffers from a mild case of Alzheimer's, according to his family. Over 20,000 posters and numerous messages on social networking websites and apps were also distributed.
Official data shows China amid a rapid process of population aging has more than six million Alzheimer's patients and only 15 percent of them receive treatment.
Zhang Qiyuan, a worker of Dingxiang Community who designed the QR code badge, said the device is easy to use since "almost everyone has a smartphone nowadays".
The China Internet Network Information Center said the number of mobile Internet users in the country totaled 527 million by the end of June.
Dianyuan Community in Changsha City, Hunan Province, launched a similar pilot program in early July. It provided 47 elderly people each with 16 QR codes printed on cloth, allowing them to sew the codes to their garments.
Ye Yunxia, 75, said she wished the QR codes had been available earlier as one night not long ago her husband wandered off. Their children searched for him all night and found him the next morning.
"My husband was wet from the rain and had a fever. He's still recovering. I believe the code could be really useful to the elderly," Ye said.
Wang Jie, a worker in Dianyuan Community, said several years ago some people suggested senior residents should wear a paper or plastic badge containing personal information, but the idea triggered concerns of privacy leakage. Some elderly people shrugged off the idea saying it would have robbed them of their dignity, Wang said.
In June, a property management company in Shenyang City, Liaoning Province, also started to offer QR codes to older residents in 10 communities in case they get lost.
China is facing tough challenges in caring for its rapidly graying population. Official figures show the country had 194 million people aged above 60, or nearly 15 percent of its population, by the end of 2012. The number is expected to hit 243 million in 2020.