[EDITORIALS]Alzheimer’s patients need aidA 92-year-old elderly man killed his wife, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and then committed suicide. This man had lived happily with his wife for 78 years, but after she fell ill with Alzheimer’s disease, he became weary with the constant care that she required and did not want to become a burden to his children, so made the drastic choice.
It is heartbreaking that a man in his 90s had to end his life in such tragic way. Although the circumstances among families that have elderly members with Alzheimer’s may differ, this incident shows the severity of the pain that the disease can inflict.
Among people over 65 years of age, about 8.3 percent, or 346,000, are estimated to suffer from Alzheimer’s. Taking into account hidden numbers, some estimate that about one in every five families has an elderly member with Alzheimer’s.
This illness has no cure and requires families to have someone look after the patient 24 hours a day. If they can’t afford outside help, a member of the family must give up his or her life and take care of the patient, which will inevitably cause disruptions in the family’s life. That is why it is not fair to leave the care of the Alzheimer’s patient solely to the family.
However, the harsh reality is that currently the family must bear the entire burden. Treatment facilities accommodate only 5 percent of all Alzheimer’s patients, and the monthly costs range from 1 million ($870) to 2 million won. As a result, families usually have to take care of the patient, and if the patient’s conditions worsen, this can cause a crisis for their caretakers.
Now is the time to establish a national treatment system for Alzheimer’s sufferers. If the illness is discovered early on, it’s possible to improve the patient’s quality of life and possibly slow the progression of the disease.
Korea’s medical care is world-class. The problem lies in the lack of facilities, government support and other infrastructure. We must increase the treatment facilities for those who can afford the services, as well as recuperation and protection facilities by the government and provincial administrations. Free facilities must be expanded to accommodate ordinary folks as well.
The problem is financing. We cannot delay seeking a social consensus on how to fund such an endeavor. We must stop the destruction Alzheimer’s disease can wreak on families.