by Xinhua writers Yao Yulin, Wang Xiaojie and Zhao Xu
BEIJING, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) -- Su Xiao, 49, and Xu Guangchun, 42, are like-minded souls in the streets of the bustling Chinese capital of Beijing, checking surveillance cameras and consulting passers-by, with a near-constant barrage of calls on their phones.
Whom they are seeking to help are senior citizens with Alzheimer's disease, a hard-hitting disease that can easily erase out the 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 those fraught families find their lost elders in 2016.
Su, an outdoor sports lover, is a seasoned professional in mountain rescue. On New Year's Day of 2016, he was on his way to a nearby ski resort where he ran into a listless and pale elderly woman who was holding a sack and shivering in the cold under an overbridge.
She was mumbling, saying that she was about to buy noodles for her son, reminded Su of his grandmother, an Alzheimer's patient. "A lady of her age and with such health conditions was most likely unable to take care of her children," recalled Su.
Su reported to the police without hesitation and the police managed to find a scrap of paper with a contact number in the lost elderly's pocket. It turned out that days had passed since the elderly lost connection with her family and she traveled more than 40 km from home in southwestern Beijing to the unfamiliar place in the city's east.
"Before her way back home, the old lady just clutched me, begging me for food stamps so that she could go buy noodles," Su said. However, food stamps were things of decades ago back in the era when China was still of a planned economy.
Though almost losing all recent memories, patients who suffer from the illness often have vivid recollections of things that happened a long time ago.
They can easily get lost even in familiar environments. Once lost, they may succumb to the elements.
According to statistics revealed by a white paper released in 2016 by the Zhongmin Social Assistance Institute, about 500,000 senior citizens got lost each year, among which about 80 percent were over the age of 65. Alzheimer's disease is one of the top three reasons for them going missing.
Su and his rescue team have concluded their rule of thumb: Watch surveillance videos firstly to sort out clues before further rescue, and rely on the elderly's past experiences in their childhood and youth.
Su once managed to find an 80-year-old patient along a river in the suburb of Beijing, based on the elder's childhood life experience of living on a riverboat.
"Around 90 percent of the lost elderly never underwent any relevant hospital inspections. It is just common for their family members to take it for granted that people cannot remember things correctly as they get old," Xu said.
However, the youngest among the lost is only about 49 years old, said Su, adding that patients aged under 60 are difficult to spot by their family and the society, not to mention those who dismiss the illness as ominous and are unwilling to confide to their neighbors, relatives and friends.
Meanwhile, society lacks knowledge about Alzheimer's disease. "The lost senior citizens are often given food by warm-hearted people, but what the passers-by really should do is to report to the police," Su said.
To date, Su and Xu's "lost and found" have sent more than 320 elderly back home safe and sound. More than 500 volunteers, including some family members of the previously lost senior citizens, have joined the rescue team.
"The farther we walk, the closer the lost elders get to their homes," said Su, whose own child also often participates in the team's search efforts.