Gov’t follows through on dementia care campaign pledgeThe government on Monday announced a new program for dementia patients designed to help more than 700,000 people suffering from the illness and their families in line with a campaign pledge by President Moon Jae-in.
Under the program, the government will operate 252 support centers across the country for people affected by the disease in the next five years and strengthen the state’s role in providing medical care.
The government will inject 160 billion won ($143 million) to set up 205 new care centers nationwide to augment the 47 centers currently under operation, 25 of which are located in Seoul.
During the presidential campaign, Moon, who took office on May 10, stressed that the government should take more responsibility for the treatment of dementia and proposed launching a state program to handle the issue.
“Many families are suffering as individuals and families are becoming burdened with dementia,” said Moon in a video message to mark World Alzheimer’s Day on Monday. “It is the government’s responsibility that seniors who have dedicated themselves to the development of the country and society enjoy healthy and dignified lives.”
Among South Koreans aged 65 or older, 725,000 are estimated to be suffering from dementia, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Experts say the number will reach the 1 million mark in 2024, and surge to 2 million in 2041 and 2.7 million in 2050.
“The government aims to share the increasing burden on dementia patients and their families,” said Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo to mark the day, noting that the country is rapidly becoming an aging society in which senior citizens aged 65 and above account for 14 percent of the total population.
Also, the government aims to increase the number of hospitals dedicated to treating the disease by allocating 60 billion won to establish clinics specialized in dementia care within existing public hospitals.
Under the program, the government will also increase coverage of dementia treatment to decrease the financial burden on families, as the cost of treatment and care is forecast to increase.
Some 20 million won is estimated to be spent on each dementia patient annually, according to 2015 data. Considering the number of patients, the total cost, estimated at around 13.2 trillion won, accounts for some 0.9 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The figure will increase to 106.5 trillion won, which is equal to some 3.8 percent of the GDP, by 2050, experts say.
The chief executive also promised to introduce a 10 percent cap on the financial burden placed on those insured against dementia, a rate similar to those applied to four major age-related diseases: cancer, cardiac disorders, cerebrovascular diseases and other rare incurable diseases.
Experts have pointed out that in order to decrease the country’s social cost from patients suffering from dementia, early detection is key.
According to the report from the National Assembly Budget Office, the social cost of dementia patients is expected to reach a staggering 106.5 trillion won in 2050.