Creating ‘Inclusive Society’ Is Urgent Task for Japan

As Japan has entered the era of 100-year life spans, measures against dementia are an important challenge. It is an urgent task to realize a society in which people can live with peace of mind even if they have dementia.

A basic law on dementia has been enacted. It obliges the central government to formulate a basic plan to help people with dementia live with dignity, and it also requires local governments to make efforts to formulate support plans tailored to local circumstances. As part of that process, they are also required to listen to the opinions of people suffering from dementia and their families.

Dementia is a condition in which people experience a decline in memory, judgment and other brain functions due to a variety of causes, making their daily lives difficult. The number of people with the condition is estimated to rise to about 7 million by 2025, or one out of every five people age 65 or older, so this is a matter that affects everyone.

The basic law aims to realize an inclusive society. It is essential for each and every member of society to have a sense of responsibility for the situation and to support each other. To achieve this, correct knowledge and understanding must be disseminated among the public.

Dementia is currently written as “cognitive disorder” in kanji characters, but a different term was previously used in Japan that included a derogatory kanji referring to foolishness or stupidity. There is persistent prejudice that people with dementia are incapable of doing anything.

However, cognitive functions do not decline all at once, and symptoms progress gradually. The condition is not uniform — for example, people may forget that they ate but still have the ability to do something they are good at. They feel joy and sadness.

It is important to dispel misunderstandings about dementia and respect the personality and will of people who have it. Society as a whole must support people with dementia so they can make use of their remaining strength. If people can live independently for a longer period of time, they should be able to enjoy a rich life as they age.

To expand understanding of dementia, it would be effective to have people learn basic knowledge through “supporter classes” on dementia held by local governments, companies and schools. The classes should be designed so that participants can use what they have learned to support people with dementia by watching over them and helping them go out.

There is currently no method to prevent the onset of dementia. However, risk factors such as a lack of exercise and isolation have now become known. Government agencies and experts should disseminate information and encourage people to engage in activities that can reduce risks.

It is also necessary to increase opportunities for people with dementia to participate in society.

In addition to social gatherings among people with dementia and their families, there are now initiatives in which people with dementia and their families can participate together and enjoy the things they like to do. In Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, and Sendai, for example, there are occasions for several families and their relatives with dementia, to get together for activities such as cooking or eating out.

Such occasions are said to provide mental refreshment for people with dementia and their caregivers, as they can easily get isolated. These events can also help restore relationships among sufferers and their family members, as their relationships can deteriorate. Knowledge gleaned from earlier cases must be shared and spread throughout the nation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 2, 2023)