With the growing prevalence of dementia among the elderly population, the legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee yesterday passed a motion asking the Ministry of Health and Welfare to discuss the feasibility of placing dementia-screening tests on the list of government-subsidized health checks in an effort to catch the disease early on and delay its onset.
The motion also requires dementia clinics nationwide to employ medical consultants specialized in dementia to provide the public with more detailed information about the disorder.
According to the ministry’s latest statistics, about one out of every 100 people aged 65 years old and above has dementia.
The statistics shows that the prevalence of dementia increases strongly with age, as the incidence rate for the cognitive disorder rises to between 7 percent and 13 percent in people aged 80 to 90, and climbs further to 23 percent in people in the 90-plus age bracket.
Despite the relatively high incidence, the country only has 96 specialized dementia daycare centers and 78 regional hospitals that have dementia clinics, the statistics showed.
Taiwan Alzheimer’s Disease Association secretary-general Tang Li-yu (湯麗玉) said the families of dementia patients had been forced to put up with the government’s lack of care for people with this illness.
“We have seen incidents where family members of dementia patients killed themselves by jumping off a building or committed suicide along with the patients by burning coal in a confined space. They did so because most of the government welfare programs are just pie-in-the-sky,” Tang said.
Citing examples, Tang said family members would not qualify for medical care subsidies unless they sent the patient to a daycare center for at least 20 days each month, which could cost up to NT$15,000 and few could afford.
“What they really need is for the government to give a medical care subsidy of NT$800 to NT$1,000 once a week, allowing them a brief respite from their caring roles occasionally,” Tang said.
Liu Hui-fang (劉慧芳), the wife of a man with early-onset dementia, said she had taken her husband to scores of medical divisions to undergo a variety of tests since he first started exhibiting symptoms at the age of 54, but none of them diagnosed him with dementia.
“Because of the disease, my husband has become a totally different person ... who is violent and self-abusive. I had been under so much pressure that I had thought of committing suicide more than once,” Liu said.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) also proposed renovating classrooms left unused because of the nation’s decreasing birthrate into daycare centers for dementia patients to make up for the serious lack of such institutions.
Since the proposal is related to regulations governing the use of public school properties and other complicated matters, it has been referred to cross-party negotiations.