• Kyodo

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Japan’s graying population means that building a strong framework for dementia care is among the country’s most pressing issues, but experts say there is considerable room for improvement.

“Japan’s health care system is highly developed and highly specialized,” said Shekhar Saxena, director of mental health at the World Health Organization, “but in terms of identifying and treating people with dementia, Japan needs to involve general doctors and nurses much more than what is being done now.”

Saxena was one of around 300 people who attended an international conference on dementia care last week in Tokyo.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at the conference his administration will work on a strategy to boost measures to deal with the primarily age-linked disorder, but it remains to be seen whether the plan can address the needs of patients and their families.

“The number of people with dementia is so large that it will not be possible in future for only specialists (such as neurologists and psychiatrists) to provide care,” Saxena said. “The general health care system — general doctors, nurses — needs to be much better trained to identify dementia early and to provide the continuity of care (that is necessary).”

Roughly 8.62 million people in Japan — or 25 percent of the population older than 65 — either live with dementia or are at risk of developing it. The number is expected to rise as postwar baby boomers grow older, while a chronically low birthrate means there will be fewer people to care for them.

Mark Pearson, deputy director of employment, labor and social affairs at the OECD, said Japan’s weakness lies in its lack of a system that allows professionals in different fields of care to share data on a patient.

“When you have someone with dementia, it’s not just about what happens to them when they’re in hospital, or when they see a primary care doctor, or when they’re in a long-term care institution. It’s how they’re linked together,” he said.

The Tokyo conference was one of several follow-up events to a Group of Eight nations summit on dementia held in London last December. Britain adopted its own national strategy on dementia in 2009.

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