A government report last year shows that nearly one in every 10 Korean senior citizens suffers from Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. The report, based on an analysis of some 6,000 people aged over 65 who received treatment at a general hospital in Bundang, south of Seoul, raised the need for prompt government action.
According to the report released by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, about 541,000 people aged over 65, or 9.18 percent of all senior citizens, were estimated to have received treatment for Alzheimer's disease last year, up from 8.4 percent in 2008 and 8.74 percent in 2010. If this trend continues, the number of elderly people suffering from Alzheimer's is expected to surpass 1 million in 2024, one year earlier than the ministry forecast in 2008. In 2050, the number of Alzheimer's patients is expected to reach 2.71 million.
Worse yet, one out of four senior citizens suffers from cognitive disability, which could develop into Alzheimer's over time, the report said. Elderly people who have no spouse due to divorce or death are three times more likely to come down with the disease. This will augur ill for the future when a growing number of people are expected to live alone.
The rapid rise in the number of dementia patients is unavoidable, given the accelerating age of the population. Advanced alzheimer's requires care around the clock, placing a great burden on caregivers. For this reason, Alzheimer's often causes the breakup of families.
It is time for the government and society to act resolutely to put the brakes on the rapid spread of this illness. Under a comprehensive management plan for Alzheimer's unveiled last year, the government will introduce special grades for Alzheimer's patients to the elderly long-term care insurance system. A call center will be established in October to provide consulting services regarding dementia.
The key question is to craft a system in which people can detect the disease early so its progress can be slowed. At the same time, more elderly nursing homes must be established to free families from the burden of caring patients at home.