Dementia no longer family matterA man in his 50s ended his own life and took the lives of his parents, who both suffered from dementia. He had taken care of them for years, and the financial strain made him sink into a deep depression. Living with dementia for a long time is tragic, and stories about families caring for patients who suffer from dementia have been frequent lately.
An elderly man in his 80s drove his car into a stream with his dementia-afflicted wife in May last year in North Gyeongsang. Another man in his 80s ended his life and that of his sick wife’s in August in Seoul. Some people become frustrated and resentful after years of caring around-the-clock for their sick family members, and in the end they turn abusive - hurting or killing them.
Dementia cases are rapidly increasing in aging societies. Individuals with dementia-related diseases totalled 83,000 in 2005. That figure surged to 576,000 in 2013. It is estimated that 1 million people may be afflicted with the disease by 2025.
Such tragedies continue because society still considers the condition a family issue, and only those with advanced dementia are admitted to specialized nursing homes. Patients in advanced stages of dementia are estimated at 360,000, and they are often left in the hands of family members. According to the police, seniors with dementia who have gone missing totalled 4,000 in 2012, which amounts to about 11 a day.
As at least one of the dementia patient’s family members must make the sacrifice to support them. And the psychological, physical and financial pressure is often enormous, and the caregiver can likely fall ill as well. If mental illness accompanies physical pain, the family inevitably moves toward catastrophe. Dementia is no longer a family matter.
Society must offer support. The state must extend insurance coverage for housing for dementia patients. We must also pay greater attention to family members who care for dementia patients to help ease their pain. It is time to start discussing and taking responsibility for this disease. This should be a pressing welfare agenda. Those who have been there would know.