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Burden of dementia weighing on more and more Japanese families

An estimated 4.62 million people in Japan suffer from the degenerative disease

<p>Shigeru Suzuki and his wife, Hiroko, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, make their way through their neighborhood in Kitaurawa, Saitama Prefecture (Photo by Tomoko Otake)</p>

Shigeru Suzuki and his wife, Hiroko, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, make their way through their neighborhood in Kitaurawa, Saitama Prefecture (Photo by Tomoko Otake)

  • Tomoko Otake for The Japan Times
  • Japan
  • July 3, 2014
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Life was relaxing and peaceful for Shigeru Suzuki until six years ago, when he realized that Hiroko, his wife of more than 30 years, was having problems doing simple chores.

The 77-year-old former employee of a major civil engineering firm recalls that, at first, he couldn’t understand why Hiroko couldn’t sort clothes as told. One day, he got irritated and snapped at her, pressing her to explain why she couldn’t just remember to put the clothes away. Hiroko then tearfully replied: “It’s not like I want to be forgetful.”

Suspecting something was wrong, Shigeru took her to a neurologist, who said she was experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Little did he know back then that her condition would soon deteriorate to a point where he would have to do everything around the house, as well as attending to her daily needs, including dressing, feeding and bathing her.

“I was a typical husband (in Japan), having delegated all of the household duties to my wife,” Suzuki said recently at their home in Kitaurawa, Saitama Prefecture. “But little by little, I found myself having to take over, as her condition worsened.”

Stories like Suzuki’s are not uncommon in a country with a rapidly graying population, where 1 in 4 people aged 65 or over has some form of dementia. An estimated 4.62 million people in Japan are suffering from the degenerative disease, while 4 million others have “mild cognitive impairment,” a condition likely to progress to full-blown dementia, according to a 2013 study commissioned by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Recent high-profile cases show that, despite government efforts to improve the lives of people with dementia, the illness — which often starts as memory lapses and then progresses to more severe impediments such as losing track of time and place, and loss of mobility — takes a heavy toll on patients and those who care for them. With no miracle treatments in sight, and with good specialist doctors in short supply, the burden of care falls primarily on family members, many of whom are often aging and saddled with their own health concerns.

According to the 2013 health ministry study, Alzheimer’s is the most prevalent type of dementia, affecting 67.2 percent of patients. Nearly 20 percent have vascular dementia, caused by strokes. The third most common type is Lewy body dementia, which plagues 4.3 percent of all patients, and is closely associated with Parkinson’s disease.

 

Full Story: Dementia burden weighing on more families

Source: The Japan Times

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