Addressing dementia prevention

The government has compiled a draft outline of new measures to address the growing problem of dementia among the elderly, placing emphasis on preventive steps to curb the increase in the number of patients.

The draft features the first-ever numerical targets to contain the disease — cutting the incidence rate among patients in their 70s by 6 percent over six years and delaying the onset of dementia in that age bracket by a year within the next decade.

While exploring effective steps to prevent the disease — for which there is yet no established cure — will be important, the feasibility of the targets may be in doubt since steps often recommended to reduce the risk of dementia, such as adequate physical exercise, social interaction and a healthy diet, reportedly lack solid scientific evidence. Concern has also been raised that too much emphasis on preventive measures could lead people to think dementia patients are to blame because they did not make enough effort to prevent its onset. The new focus on preventing the disease should not detract from the need to create an environment in which people who have developed it can continue to live comfortably — a key objective in the government’s earlier policy in dealing with dementia.

The problem is anticipated to grow more serious with the rapid aging of Japan’s population. According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 1 out of every 7 Japanese 65 or older is estimated to suffer from dementia. The number of patients, which stood at some 5.2 million as of 2015, is forecast to reach 7 million, or 1 out of 5 of the elderly population, in 2025. By beefing up measures aimed at preventing and delaying the onset of the disease, the government hopes to curb the anticipated rise in social security expenses caused by the increase in dementia patients.

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