Taiwan’s 270,000 people with symptoms of dementia are fool, aren’t they? Concepts need to be reversed
Taiwan’s 270,000 people with symptoms of dementia are fool, aren’t they?  Concepts need to be reversed

▲ Dr. Tsuann Kuo, President of Taiwan Association of Family Caregivers (TAFC), wants to challenge public perceptions of dementia. (CNEWS information photo / photo reporter Hu Chao-hsin)

CNEWS reporter Chen Yu-kai / Taipei report

How many people are diagnosed with dementia in Taiwan? According to statistics released 10 years ago, it is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in civil society has already reached more than 270,000, a number growing at an annual rate of 10,000. It is an issue that Taiwanese society has to face though. Most people are not aware of their condition, and the old concept of “fool or idiot” in people with dementia has delayed the opportunity of early detection.

Speaking on this topic, Yea-Ing Lotus Shyu, professor of the School of Nursing at Chang Gung University, said that the Ministry of Health and Welfare has been investigating this prevalence rate in 2011 by Taiwan Alzheimer’s Disease Association. The current status of dementia nationwide hasn’t been investigated thoroughly, however, as it requires follow-ups on dementia on the long-term. As a result, this situation has affected policy planning for the next 10 to 20 years, making it impossible to achieve.

Among other highlights, domestic surveys show that more than 80 percent of people with mild, moderate, and severe dementia symptoms tend to reduce the frequency of their frequencies of going out after diagnosis. On the one hand, they are afraid of the outside world and worried of being labeled [as insane]; on the other hand, families are afraid of their relatives being diagnosed with dementia and would force them to stay at home, leading to a faster deterioration of their cognitive functions.

To overcome this phenomenon, LiYu Tang, secretary-general of the Taiwan Alzheimer’s Disease Association and full member of the World Dementia Council, said that a better understanding of dementia, among the general public and the health professionals, is the first step. The notion of mental illness still implies the idea of being stupid or silly. Someone with a bad memory and a normal appearance can be sick too. When a patient has mild or extremely mild illness with memory impairment, he or she doesn’t think that this could be a sign of dementia.

LiYu Tang said that people with mild and very mild dementia can continue to be active in the community as long as they actively participate. Regretfully, the association has been lobbying the Ministry of Education for the need of dementia education into the primary school curriculum for many years, but to no avail. Starting from elementary school, the NGO has been advocating for letting children understanding the concept of dementia. In addition, President Tsai Ing-wen announced in August last year that everybody should learn about dementia, and the Ministry of Education should respond positively.

Still, Taiwanese cultural habits of assisting elderly people may be a missed opportunity to identify those suspected of dementia, and mistakenly believe that the “Old Fanlian” is a normal aging phenomenon. To Dr. Tsuann Kuo, President of Taiwan Association of Family Caregivers and Assistant Professor of the Department of Medical Social and Social Work at Chung Shan Medical University, this is one of the myths that Dr. Tsuann Kuo, that need to be overcome.

Dr. Tsuann Kuo stressed that at present, 20 percent of Taiwanese family caregivers are caring for their families with dementia. According to the American experience, this number will double from 20 to 40 percent in 15 years. The biggest impact, especially the younger type of dementia, is more and more common. In recent months, she has assisted three young adults who are still in college but have to take care of their single parents diagnosed with dementia.

Dr. Tsuann Kuo stressed that the public must no longer regard the family of people with dementia with a “disgrace” on their face, nor should they attribute the symptoms exhibited by the patients to “disobedience” because they are sick. Nobody can escape dementia and the entire Taiwanese society should adapt and people should learn to help each other.

Take School of Wisdom as an example. LiYu Tang said that this is a cognitive promotion service. Through continuous participation activities, it helps to activate the functions of people with mild and very mild dementia. In the Taiwan Dementia Plan 2.0, more than 200 Support Centers for People with Dementia and their Families(SPDF) have been established. A community service base with cognitive promotion activities is the most active in Taiwan compared to other countries. In the future, it will continue to expand and improve service quality.


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Photo source: CNEWS file photo / photo reporter Hu Chao-hsin

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