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This story is part of the Financial Times Seasonal Appeal for Alzheimer & # 39; s Research UK, which raises funds for pioneering research to develop new treatments for dementia. You can support the appeal here
He held an umbrella over his mother Kinue, while sweeping the garden in the pouring rain, which made Yuji Ogawa realize how far his Alzheimer's had come.
Kinue had started making small mistakes after his removal from a nearby confectionery factory: putting the wrong food in the freezer or the wrong top in a bottle of soy sauce. But little by little he worried about cleaning his garden in Fukuoka, the largest city on the island of Kyushu, in southern Japan.
Angrily rejected his son's pleas to enter. "She started to do it obsessively, even if it was snowing, she would try to leave and sweep," says Mr. Ogawa, 50.
Mr. Ogawa had to give up his work as a salaried employee in a cooperative society to take care of his parents. That was seven years ago. Kinue is now 84 years old and his illness is in its final stage. "Looking back, I realize: she did not remember doing it," she says. "She knew something was strange about herself." She was insecure and confused and changed it. "
Since then, Mr. Ogawa has helped establish an" Alzheimer's café "where the caregivers and people with the disease and other forms of dementia can seek advice and support.He wants people with dementia to find kindness, not despair. "I do not want anyone else to suffer those terrible experiences," says Ogawa.
The fastest aging country in the world – more than a quarter of the Japanese are over 65 – Japan faces a "dementia pandemic." "According to Masaki Muto of the International Health University.
By the year 2025, 7.3 million Japanese will live on the condition: one in 20 people in the country. By 2050, if nothing changes, it will be one in 10. The treatment and care of people with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia cost ¥ 14.5bn ($ 128bn) per year, according to a study by Keio University.
The scale of the challenge for Japanese society has led to a rethinking of dementia, with a shift away from medicine and institutional attention towards community care. With the health system of Japan struggling with the shortage of both personnel and money, the goal is to make the care of dementia part of the fabric of local life.
Mr. Ogawa is one of thousands of people in communities across Japan who are preparing to help people with Alzheimer's and dementia stay in their homes. Mr. Ogawa has an orange band around his neck, which indicates that he is a "defender of Alzheimer's", and therefore is ready to offer help on the street. Municipalities are training police officers on how to respond when they find an elderly person wandering the streets. Some cities have even started labeling people with dementia with QR codes that authorities can track if they are lost.
"Numbers are not the problem," says Kumiko Nagata, a former nurse and now director of research at the Tokyo Center for Dementia Care, of the amazing number of Japanese living with the condition.
"What we need most is a change in values, even with Alzheimer's, there are things a person can do, they do not need to be expelled from society, we should not repeat the mistakes of the past," he added, referring to the 1960s and 1970s when people with dementia were institutionalized in large care centers.
Community care offers hope for a kinder future for people with dementia and their families, she and others say. But it also depends on there being a community to offer that care. In the coming years, the number of people with dementia in the big cities of Japan will grow and the post-war generation without children has no loving children to help them.
Mr. Muto, a doctor who now works in health policy, highlights an example of how dementia care can go wrong.
Mental health hospitals in the country have few young patients. At the same time, urban families are desperate to find a place to house their parents, and that is why they are hospitalized. It is a combination made in hell: a strange environment in which patients with dementia are medicated and in danger of rapid decline. He admits: "We went from 4m to 7m with dementia and the number of young people who love them is decreasing." Whatever the conscience and the smart schemes, it's going to be difficult. "
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Mr. Ogawa is also working on a brighter version of the future.
Alzheimer's coffee, one of more than 650 across the country, some regulars chatting over teacups, led by a woman from the municipal council.On another table, Mr. Ogawa advises an elderly gentleman on how to make in the face of changes in the status of his wife.
"There has been a lot of good in my experience. A salaried worker does not learn much about the real world, "he says." In the future, I've thought about whether this house could become a cooperative for local families with Alzheimer's. I want to help. "
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