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The dementia threat

Mar 09,2017
The heart-breaking story of a 74-year-old husband of a dementia patient ending up behind bars for strangling his wife and attempting to take his own life to end the agony for their children would not feel foreign to many families dealing with illness in the family in a society graying fast. He drank a bottle of pesticide, but survived to serve three years in prison. One man in his 50s who was exhausted after caring for ailing parents in their 80s also chose to end his and their lives. Illness often becomes a deadly conflict between the parents and offspring and among siblings due to physical and financial burden.

Dementia brings grief and often tragedy to entire family. The number of patients aged of 65 and higher are increasing. According to the health ministry, the number would surge to 1 million in 2024 from last year’s 680,000 and reach over 2 million in 2050. The cost for an individual and nation could become astronomical. The medical cost of 20.3 million won ($17,644) per person or 13 trillion won in total in 2015 is estimated to reach 106 trillion won in 2050 to outpace the country’s defense spending. Dementia could break the individual, family, and society.

Meticulous planning should start immediately. The government in 2008 has begun a battle with dementia and initiated around-the-clock visit care program and insurance coverage for long-term care.

But that does not ease day-to-day suffering. The Japanese government renovates homes to serve the patients better and subsidizes development and commercialization of nursing robots. The Italian government grants two years leave from work for family caregivers. The Netherlands built a town for dementia patients so that they get daily care from medical professionals. Dementia can hit us and our family without warning. We must cope and address the problem together.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 8, Page 30