Date
18 December 2017
Asayo Sakai, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease almost 10 years ago, takes a nighttime walk, followed by her daughter Akiko Sakai, near their apartment in Osaka. Photo: Bloomberg
Asayo Sakai, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease almost 10 years ago, takes a nighttime walk, followed by her daughter Akiko Sakai, near their apartment in Osaka. Photo: Bloomberg

10,000 seniors missing each year in Japan’s dementia crisis

Japan, one of the world’s fastest-aging countries, gives us a glimpse of what is to come as the population in most advanced societies grows increasingly gray. 

An epidemic of dementia is a scary part of that picture.

It is estimated that eight million people in Japan suffer from dementia or show early signs of developing the disease, Bloomberg reports.

That’s about 6 percent of the population.

By 2060, 40 percent of Japanese will be over 65, up from 24 percent today, figures from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research show. 

Its resources for the care of the elderly stretched, the government started a program last year that helps families and communities deal with dementia sufferers on their own.

The results have been mixed. 

An estimated 10,000 seniors with dementia go missing a year.

But Bloomberg cites an example of how support within the community keeps one woman with dementia safe.

Asayo Sakai kept banging on the front door, demanding to be let out of her daughter’s apartment.

Finally, her daughter, Akiko, pushed to her limit, let her mother out and allowed her to wander the streets of Osaka.

Asayo’s walks lasted hours, into the early morning.

At first, her daughter followed from a safe distance. When police assured her they’d try to keep an eye on Asayo, she let her mother roam the city alone.

Since Asayo first began her walks, the people in her neighborhood have become an informal support network.

When Shigeo Asai, 75, the manager of Akiko’s apartment building, spots Asayo in an elevator on his monitor at, say, 6 a.m., he invites her into his office for a chat.

He said the small talk makes her smile and she then often returns to her apartment.

But government funding for the stay-at-home program, just US$31 million this fiscal year, is limited.

And the government has been raising insurance premiums and reducing access to state-funded services as part of a broader effort to reduce spending, adding to the burden of those providing care to the dementia sufferers at home.

But would the caretakers, many of whom are the adult children of the elderly patients, prefer them to be locked up in an institution?

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RA/FL

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