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In April the Welfare and Labor Ministry began a nationwide one-year campaign to help others better understand senile dementia. The campaign targets the mental disorder as a top-priority issue to tackle as the graying of the nation’s population progresses. The core organization established for the campaign is called the “100-Member Committee to Build Communities Where You Can Live Without Worry Even If You Suffer From Senile Dementia.”

The ultimate goal of the campaign is twofold: disseminate accurate and specific information about senile dementia to help people deepen their understanding of it and, within 10 years, to turn every community in the nation into a place where people with the problem can live safely.

Under the committee, various efforts to help people with senile dementia have been launched. One effort involves nurturing “supporters for people hit by senile dementia.” The campaign is aimed at producing 1 million supporters in five years by training people in communities and workplaces.

Although this campaign is not making big headlines, it is a meaningful endeavor that citizens and business enterprises should support. Since the nursing-care insurance system started in April 2000, people’s understanding of senile dementia appears to have deepened, but not enough.

Of some 4 million people recognized as requiring nursing care under the nursing-care insurance plan, about 50 percent show symptoms of senile dementia, according to the ministry. It is also reported that one of every eight people staying at nursing-care homes has senile dementia and need some form of support. At present, people at least 65 years old with senile dementia number 1.69 million, accounting for 6.7 percent of this age group. It is estimated that this number will go up to 2.55 million (7.6 percent) by 2015 and 3.53 million (10.2 percent) by 2030 — as the average age of the nation’s population and the number of elderly people continue to rise.

Aging itself does not cause senile dementia. Disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and cerebrovascular dysfunction are to blame. While people suffering from senile dementia have problems with memory, they still have pride. Therefore, they tend to express irritation or become angry at other people’s insensitive reactions to their condition. Such feelings may manifest themselves as a desire to wander, a delusion that one’s belongings have been stolen, or the use of violent language and actions.

At an international conference on Alzheimer’s disease held in Kyoto last year, one person suffering from Alzheimer’s and senile dementia told those attending that a sufferer has a hard time because the people around him or her do not recognize that person’s personality and individuality. The speaker urged that people change their perception of senile dementia.

Caring for people with senile dementia should start with efforts to understand their mental world and their personalities. Imposing care according to a formula will not work and could complicate the problem. The memory disturbances of sufferers cause difficulty in integrating various experiences into a whole picture composed of connected meanings. The inability to make connections leads to extreme unease. Thus it is helpful to treat people with senile dementia kindly, using words that convey a sense of security.

It will also be important to take measures that lessen the burdens on families with members who suffer from senile dementia. More attention should be paid to the tendency of such families to view the disorder as a cause for shame that needs to be hidden from others for as long as possible. In some cases, families don’t bring afflicted people to hospitals until the disorder has progressed to a serious degree.

It is encouraging that, under the one-year campaign, teams of experts will push a wide range of projects including: community-based care that covers prevention, early detection and long-term treatment of senile dementia; joint design of care plans both by people suffering from senile dementia and by family members; and the expansion of networks of people suffering from the disorder. The campaign involves not only medical and public-health professionals but also social-welfare experts, representatives of workplaces and communities, and local government officials.

In addition to the medical approach, a communal and social strategy is needed to deal with incidents, for example, when people with senile dementia wander away from their homes and go missing. Cooperation from neighbors and other people is also needed to help prevent people with the mental disorder from falling victim to fraudulent and malicious business-sales methods. A stronger system should protect the legal rights and property of people with senile dementia. It is hoped that this yearlong campaign will rouse citizens’ interest and bear fruit that the people in each community can share.

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