Another Aging Puzzle: The Case of the Disappearing Fingerprints
In the past, we've asked our optometrist why our eyes had changed color from hazel (brown with yellow highlights) to green, learning that this was a side effect of aging. We then asked if she would write an article, Why Do Eyes Change Color?
Recently, we had our fingerprints taken for a US government traveler's system. And they were scanned to demonstrate a step we would undergo in this system. And scanned again. And again.
My fingerprints did not appear in the scan with enough clarity to make them identifiable. One more instance of something changing or, in this case, becoming an unrecognizable aspect as we aged.
We found a Scientific American article, Can You Lose Your Fingerprints? dated May 29, 2009 in which "Kasey Wertheim, president of Complete Consultants Worldwide, LLC, which provides fingerprint examination expertise to government clients and has done forensic and biometric work for the US Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin" was interviewed about this subject.
Mr. Wertheim: "Also, the elasticity of skin decreases with age, so a lot of senior citizens have prints that are difficult to capture. The ridges get thicker; the height between the top of the ridge and the bottom of the furrow gets narrow, so there's less prominence. So if there's any pressure at all [on the scanner], the print just tends to smear."
We co-incidentally came across this fingerprint sourcebook prepared by the Department of Justice while preparing this post. The editor remarked in the preface to the sourcebook, "In the history of fingerprints, no previous effort of this magnitude has been made to assemble as much reviewed information into a single source. "
We did find a section in the sourcebook that seems to apply to our situation:
"Certain occupations can also pose problems to friction ridge skin, because people who consistently work with their hands tend to have worn, rough, dry, or damaged friction ridges on their fingers and palms, to the point that it is difficult to obtain legible recordings of their friction ridge detail. This problem may be overcome by applying skinsoftening lotion to the hands and fingers prior to recording. In addition, applying a very small amount of ink to the inking plate (so as not to get ink into the furrows and to ensure that only the tops of the ridges will be covered) may improve the fine detail (FBI, 1979, p 127). "
"These same techniques are also useful when obtaining known standards from elderly individuals or small children with very fine ridge detail. The use of ice held against the friction ridge skin may also facilitate the recording of the fine detail. On occasion, a subject’s friction ridges may be so fine that the ink completely covers the ridges and furrows. In these cases, instead of using ink, using a brush to lightly dust the friction ridge skin with black fingerprint powder may be necessary to record the very fine friction ridge detail. White opaque lifting material (e.g., Handiprint®) with a transparent cover is then used to record the impressions directly from the fingers. The finger numbers should be marked on the transparent covers to prevent any confusion and to ensure the correct orientation of the impressions. The lifts are then cut to fit inside the appropriate blocks on the fingerprint card and are secured with clear tape."
Now that we know that we might present a scanned 'smeared' fingerprint, we'll keep you apprised of any other aging changes that seem to be a little out of the ordinary. We invite you to submit your own stories. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll consider them for SeniorWomen.com's Letters column.