Projection for Dementia Sufferers: Work to Keep Affected People Connected to Society

Dementia is a disease that anyone can get if they live long enough. It is hoped that a society will be built in which people can live with peace of mind even when symptoms appear.

A research group of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has released a projection that shows the number of elderly people with dementia increasing from 4.43 million in 2022 to 5.84 million in 2040. This means that one out of every seven elderly people will have dementia.

Among the many diseases that cause dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, in which a certain kind of protein accumulates in the brain, accounts for 60% to 70% of all cases. Although it is not yet possible to fundamentally cure dementia, drugs have been developed to slow its progress.

In the past, there was a deep-rooted perception that “dementia makes a person unable to do anything.” In many cases, the person would shut themselves away in their house and the family members who cared for them would become exhausted.

In recent years, however, it has become clear that maintaining social ties, such as through continued work or hobbies, can slow the progress of dementia.

It is important to dispel misconceptions and prejudice against the condition.

In January this year, the basic law on dementia took effect, with the goal of “achieving an inclusive society.” Based on this law, the government intends to compile specific measures for its basic plan as early as this autumn.

Although some people live independently even after they have dementia, support from the government and businesses is essential for them to live safely.

It is hoped that the government will consider the views of those with dementia and their families, and present measures needed for people with dementia to stay connected to society.

Many local governments are training supporters to look after those with dementia and working on projects to help them go outside. It is important to expand these efforts.

Recently, an increasing number of companies are developing products that are easy for people with dementia to use. Some companies are producing gas stoves that automatically shut off when used abnormally, or clothes that can be worn without concern for which side is the front and which is the back.

At the same time, it is also important to prevent dementia. As part of the same study, the research team also conducted a survey on mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is considered a preliminary stage of dementia, and it estimated that the number of people with MCI will increase from 5.58 million in 2022 to 6.12 million in 2040.

With MCI, a person may have symptoms such as memory deterioration, but has no difficulty in daily living. While some people with MCI transition to dementia, others return to good health through preventive measures.

Lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes are said to increase the risk of dementia. Local governments and medical institutions should strengthen guidance on matters including diet and exercise.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 16, 2024)