Fan Weidong (L) talks with his father Fan Chuanxi at home in Jiyang District of Jinan City, east China's Shandong Province, May 5, 2023. (Xinhua/Gao Tian)
JINAN, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- Fan Weidong's life was turned upside down after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease some six years ago.
"My father began asking the same questions repeatedly. He became timid, short-tempered and stubborn," said Fan, recalling the changes in his father prior to the diagnosis. "His memory was failing so he couldn't remember our names, and he got lost several times."
Fan, a policeman from the Jiyang District in the city of Jinan, east China's Shandong Province, sought treatment for his father, but it was to no avail. He also witnessed other families going through similar difficulties, including the helplessness of losing track of the whereabouts of elderly relatives.
"I wanted to do something to make them feel more secure and at ease," said Fan, 53.
Thus, a campaign was born. Fan has since designed various types of clothes that help to find people when they get lost. These garments include down jackets as well as T-shirts, with more than 2,000 items distributed free of charge to vulnerable people, including Alzheimer's patients, across the country.
"The clothes have a QR code containing their owners' basic information and their emergency contact details," he said. "Moreover, the clothes have reflective strips on the back, resembling those on traffic-police uniforms, to ensure the safety of elderly people traveling at night."
"The logo --'AD 9-21' -- is also imprinted on the back of the clothes, with AD standing for Alzheimer's disease and 9-21 referring to Sept. 21, which coincides with World Alzheimer's Day," he added.
Alzheimer's is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys the memory, cognitive capability and the ability to carry out simple tasks. Medical experts say that there is currently no effective drug that can cure Alzheimer's.
This year, World Alzheimer's Day falls on Thursday. In China, statistics show about 10 million people aged 60 and above have Alzheimer's. Earlier this year, health authorities in China launched a nationwide campaign to run from 2023 to 2025 to promote the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's.
Life was not easy for Fan. In 2015, three years before the Alzheimer's diagnosis was made, his father was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer.
To help his father combat the Alzheimer's, Fan sought medicines for him, hoping to delay the progress of his disease. But the effect was limited.
On New Year's Day, 2019, his father failed to return home after taking a walk. Fan searched for his father, together with his family and friends, and their hearts filled with anxiety. After more than an hour, there was still no news of his father.
At around 3 p.m. that day, Fan received a call from a police station, informing him that his father had been found. Hanging up the phone, Fan rushed over, only to find his father had sustained bruises and bleeding on his face after falling down due to tiredness and trouble with walking. Fan's face was wet with tears.
That experience prompted Fan to design and manufacture "anti-lost clothes" for his father and many other people with Alzheimer's.
However, manufacturing such clothes was no easy task.
To master the real needs of the Alzheimer's patients and collect first-hand information, he examined cases of local elderly people getting lost, and visited more than 100 families with members diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
A newbie in clothes design, he had no idea how to achieve his goal. "When I began designing such clothes, I found that it was not as simple as I had imagined, and I encountered many difficulties: from the style of clothes to the texture of the fabric; from the use function to the feeling of wearing them; from contacting the factory to the tailoring," he said.
Determined to overcome these difficulties, he searched the internet and read books during his spare time.
Inspired by the traffic-police uniforms, he placed similar reflective strips on his anti-lost clothes and installed locators from electric tricycles in the garments. He later replaced these with small personal location-tracking devices, allowing people to use their mobile phones to track the locations of family members diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
To raise the comfort level of the clothing and the accuracy of the locator function, Fan sought the help of multiple companies from outside Shandong specializing in clothes design and the manufacture of tracking chips.
As more people learned that Fan was making anti-lost clothes, some reached out and expressed their need for items of this sort, and he offered them free of charge.
During his spare time, he kept in touch with the relatives of the recipients on WeChat, a popular messaging app in China. Some of them gave him feedback, allowing him to improve the clothes. Others gave him words of encouragement.
Ninety-year-old Zhang Shizhen, a Jinan resident who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, is among the recipients of the clothes. Every time before she goes out, her children repeatedly urge her to wear the clothes.
Zhang's son Huo Quansheng recalls an episode on New Year's Day, 2021, when his mother lost her way home while taking a walk. "Fortunately, some passers-by scanned the QR code on the clothes and called me, so we rushed over there immediately," said Huo. "Although my mother's memory is failing, she cheers up every time she sees Fan."
Fan has designed four generations of anti-lost clothes and dispensed more than 2,000 free garments to people from over 20 provinces and cities in China, including Shanxi and Henan, with a total investment of over 400,000 yuan (about 55,762 U.S. dollars).
Moreover, through the years, his personal endeavor has mushroomed into a public campaign with over 30 volunteers. Together with the volunteers, Fan has established a public service center and has performed a range of tasks, from producing clothes to applying for a patent.
On hearing of their deeds, the public security bureau of Jinan and the civil affairs bureau of Jiyang offered them some financial support.
Fan plans to coordinate with at least seven communities to dispense about 1,000 items of anti-lost clothes this year. "I hope more people in need will get the clothes and more people will take care of the disadvantaged groups together," he said. ■
This photo taken on April of 2023 shows Fan Weidong (L) distributing "anti-lost clothes" for free to a man in need in Jinan, east China's Shandong Province. (Xinhua)