A woman speaks via her smartphone
China's is a rapidly aging society. In less than 40 years, it is likely that every third person will be over 60. This creates some major challenges, one of which is the rise in the number of people with dementia. There are currently an estimated nine million sufferers nationwide, and they are in constant danger of one day finding themselves unable to find their way back home.
"Returning Home" is a WeChat group made up of volunteers trying to locate Beijing's elderly, who for reasons such as dementia or mental illness end up lost. The group was started in late 2015 by Yang Ping, founder of the Beijing Hualing Yiyang Jingshen Care Center.
"I started the WeChat group when a family friend asked me if I had any professional advice about searching for another friend's elderly relative, who had disappeared. We managed to find the old man in the corner of a cellar in their compound at 12 o'clock at night that same day," says Yang.
Yang Ping had already been running a hotline to report lost elderly for over a decade, but she quickly realized that the transition to WeChat showed much more potential. Aside from using the now 100-member strong WeChat group to coordinate the search, the volunteers use a number of different online platforms to get the message out as quickly as possible. In 2017, the group managed to find 17 people, five of which had committed suicide.
"The reach is so much farther now. We will post the missing person's report on the Jinri Toutiao app and share the information on our WeChat 'Moments' (social feed). The more people see it, the quicker we are able to locate the person and the higher the chances for a successful recovery."
Her group is not the only one making use of Jinri Toutiao. According to TechNode, it is now the biggest finder of missing people in the country. They cite figures provided by Toutiao's parent company Bytedance, saying that 4,126 people, of which 1,457 were elderly, were found between February 2016 and mid-December 2017 through the app's search function. Many apps that cater to missing people searches are also working with push notifications, which go out to people in the area of where a person goes missing.
While Yang Ping is using online channels to spread the news and coordinate the search, she still spends a large amount of time leading teams to search areas in which people go missing strategically.
"I'm 50 this year and have done this work for 17 years. It's in my bones now, so I keep going. As long as there is a need, as long as I am needed, I am happy to continue."