Some years ago, convenience stores made the news by agreeing to serve as safe havens for people after dark. While mainly conceived as a means of assisting women, anyone who feared he or she was the target of a stalker or potential assailant could, in theory, seek sanctuary in a store while the employee summoned the police.
With the aging of Japan's population, another use for the stores is being promoted in Osaka. As reported by the Sankei Shimbun this week and other news sources, four major convenience store chains have agreed to function as "dementia supporters" to assist seniors who appear disoriented.
The system, said to be the first of its kind in Japan involving convenience stores, provides for managers at outlets operated by 7-Eleven Japan, Lawson, Family Mart and Circle K-Sunkus -- which total about 3,500 in Osaka Prefecture -- to attend training sessions conducted by local cities and towns. They will be taught on how to recognize and deal with people exhibiting characteristic symptoms of dementia, as well as how to contact police or family members. The sessions will take from 60 to 90 minutes.
In addition, convenience stores in the prefecture will tie up with the quasi-governmental "Patrol and Watch SOS Network" that shares data on missing elderly via emails and faxes. The network is already in use at schools, welfare offices, by railway and bus companies, gasoline stations and others. Once a family has reported a person missing, the network distributes the information to participating organizations.
According to sources in the Osaka prefectural government, since many convenience stores operate round the clock, they are considered particularly helpful in spotting missing seniors at night or in the early morning hours, when most other businesses are closed.
Last year, a total of 10,783 seniors suffering from dementia went missing nationwide, and Osaka Prefecture, with 1,921 reported cases, led the nation. In many instances the missing people were found while in convenience stores, where they had gone to make purchases.
According to recent marketing data, convenience stores are patronized more by those in the over-50 age group than teenagers and people in their 20s.© Japan Today