According to an announcement on Jan. 8 by the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting & Statistics (DGBAS), 18,000 Taiwanese with dementia had received the Handbook for the Mentally and Physically Disabled by the end of September last year. That represents an increase of 5.9 percent compared with the previous year. The handbook is like an identification card that enables the holder to receive certain social welfare benefits.
In light of the increasing number of citizens with dementia, the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) is planning to set up specialized nursing homes and provide respite services to take care of dementia patients.
This new plan shows the government's goodwill and is a blessing for family members of dementia patients.
But because dementia patients generally adapt slowly to new surroundings and new people, they may have a hard time adjusting to new conditions, which will cause pain and be a difficult test for both patients and caregiving units. Regrettably, there have also been incidents where dementia patients have had accidents in respite units.
The Taiwan Alzheimer's Disease Association (TADA) urges the government to talk to providers of respite services for dementia patients, work to gain an understanding of operational problems, and invite organizations for patients' families, academics and business figures for discussions.
TADA estimates there are approximately 110,000 dementia patients in Taiwan. But this figure differs greatly from the DGBAS statistic that 15,000 elderly dementia patients have applied for the handbook and been classified as mentally or physically disabled. The disparity could be due to several factors.
First, the general public often does not recognize the early symptoms of dementia, and many dementia patients are therefore not identified, hospitalized and treated when the disease is in its early stages.
Second, many dementia patients and their families do not know that dementia patients can apply for the handbook and be classified as mentally or physically disabled. They therefore do not get access to resources and assistance connected with it, and instead have to bear the heavy responsibility of caring for affected family members themselves.
Third, families of dementia patients who know that they can apply for the handbook may be unwilling to do so because of concerns about social stigma, and so do not get to enjoy the government's social welfare benefits.
These conclusions are regrettable. TADA believes that the government should educate the public to identify the early symptoms of dementia, strengthen the ability of healthcare workers to screen dementia patients, encourage medical centers and hospitals to establish dementia outpatient clinics, strengthen clinic counseling and transfer services of clinics in addition to the National Health Insurance, and see to it that patients and family members are given appropriate treatment and social resources during the initial stage of the disease.
Currently, there are about 24.3 million dementia patients in the world. This number will double over the coming two decades, which means that there will be one new dementia patient every seven seconds. For Taiwan this means that there will be around 220,000 dementia patients in 20 years' time. The government and related agencies need to hold discussions on how to respond to the increasing number of dementia patients.
Chen Jung-ki is the director and Tang Li-yu is the secretary-general of the Taiwan Alzheimer's Disease Association.
Translated by Lin Ya-ti