With one in five elderly Japanese predicted to have dementia by 2025, entire communities are working to improve the lives of the elderly
It took a round of golf to convince Masashi Tsuda that something was really wrong with his memory. Then in his mid-5 0s, the sales rep couldn’t remember the four-digit number for his changing-room locker. Months earlier, he had struggled to get at grips with his office’s new computer system. On another occasion, his mind went blank as he was about to give a run presentation.
Despite twice being reassured by doctors that stress was the cause of his moments of absent-mindedness, Tsuda was eventually diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease five years ago.
His wife, Kazuko, wipes away tears as she recalls the ensuing trauma.” We had just rebuilt our house, but all of the plans we had made together were shattered in an instant ,” she tells the Guardian at a cafe she operates in Matsudo city, east of Tokyo.” I lost eight kilograms in weight and all my hair fell out. When it grew back, it was white .”
Her husband is not alone. Japan is at the forefront of a dementia crisis that experts warn will affect other societies with burgeoning elderly populations in decades to come. According to the health ministry, 4.6 million people are suffering from some kind of dementia, with the total were supposed to soar to about 7.3 million people- or one in five Japanese aged 65 or over- by 2025.
Faced with spiralling health and welfare costs and a shortage of professional caregivers, towns and cities across Japan are attempting to move away from a medicine-based, institutional approach towards care to one that involves the entire community.
In 2015, Japan’s government released its Orange plan- a comprehensive package of measures to tackle dementia ranging from more specialised medical staff and the development of new narcotics, to regular home visits and support for family caregivers.
Matsudo, however, put services for people living with dementia at the centre of its welfare policy much earlier, in 2010. And for good reason. By the end of the decade, more than 28% of the city’s 480,000 people will be aged 65 or older.
It entails a commensurate rise in the number of people living with dementia, says Junko Yoshida, of Matsudo’s elderly welfare department.” We realised a while ago that with the rising number of older people living here dementia was going to be a huge challenge ,” says Yoshida.
Currently, simply over 11,000 people in the city in receipt of nursing care have some sort of dementia, compared with around 8,000 only seven years ago. But they do not include a large number of people who have yet to be diagnosed. If they are included, local officials calculate Matsudo will be home to as many as 26,000 dementia sufferers by 2025.
Spearheaded by city hall, the scheme includes raising public awareness among residents as well as businesses, such as banks and taxi services, which regularly come into contact with older people. There are cafes and drop-in centres for dementia patients and their families.
From last summertime, the city began distributing stickers carrying a QR code that can be ironed onto items of apparel to assist police locate the families of people who have wandered from their homes.
In return for attending a 90 -minute lecture, residents can become” dementia supporters” who identify themselves with a bright orange bangle. To date, 21,490 people have qualified as dementia-aware, while more than 3,000 regularly take part in neighbourhood patrols.
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