Japan Times (July 2, 2014): Part I: Dementia Burden Weighing on More Families

Publication Date: 
Wed, 07/02/2014

Life was relaxing and peaceful for Shigeru Suzuki until six years ago, when he realized that Hiroko, his wife of more than 30 years, was having problems doing simple chores.

The 77-year-old former employee of a major civil engineering firm recalls that, at first, he couldn’t understand why Hiroko couldn’t sort clothes as told. One day, he got irritated and snapped at her, pressing her to explain why she couldn’t just remember to put the clothes away. Hiroko then tearfully replied: “It’s not like I want to be forgetful.”

Suspecting something was wrong, Shigeru took her to a neurologist, who said she was experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Little did he know back then that her condition would soon deteriorate to a point where he would have to do everything around the house, as well as attending to her daily needs, including dressing, feeding and bathing her.

“I was a typical husband (in Japan), having delegated all of the household duties to my wife,” Suzuki said recently at their home in Kitaurawa, Saitama Prefecture. “But little by little, I found myself having to take over, as her condition worsened.”

Stories like Suzuki’s are not uncommon in a country with a rapidly graying population, where 1 in 4 people aged 65 or over has some form of dementia. An estimated 4.62 million people in Japan are suffering from the degenerative disease, while 4 million others have “mild cognitive impairment,” a condition likely to progress to full-blown dementia, according to a 2013 study commissioned by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.