When it comes to dementia care, Japan has fallen behind in a number of ways—but there’s still a lot North Americans can learn from the grassroots work being done there.
According to The Guardian, Japan, which has the world’s fastest ageing population, is already home to 4.6 million people living with some form of dementia—a number which is sure to grow by 2025, when over 30 percent of the population will be older than 65.
Japan also has the highest debt globally, making it difficult for the government to develop and provide costly new healthcare initiatives. In some ways, they’re approaching a crisis.
But grassroots, volunteer-led groups have sprung up in this seemingly bleak situation and are creating new initiatives for providing dementia care.
Today, there are about 5.4 million trained volunteers working as “dementia friends” across the country. Remarkably, they’re being managed by a group of only four full-time paid staff.
The beauty of the volunteer programs lies in their informality: they can flourish without the hindrance of bureaucratic red tape.
One fascinating volunteer-led initiative is the “Suzu-no-ya,” or open-house. Here, volunteers open up their own homes—or operate out of low-cost, empty rentals—in order to give caregivers some respite. They welcome dementia patients to drop in for lunch and tea. They also offer informal advice and support for caregivers, as well as a 24-hour helpline.
Some cities have also started a neighbourhood watch policy in partnership with the police. Volunteers keep tabs on those with dementia who have a tendency to wander, and with the help of police, work to guide them safely home. Over 61 percent of Japan’s local authorities are on board with the program.
For more on volunteer-led dementia programs in Japan, read The Guardian’s coverage here.
Are there any community supports you’d like to see in your city or town? Respond in the comments below.
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