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Editorial: Gov't must tackle lack of understanding and support for aphasia patients

There are said to be some 300,000 to 500,000 people across the country with aphasia due to strokes or head injuries. Because it is difficult to identify who has aphasia just by looking at them, it is often called an "invisible" or "hidden" disorder and, as a result, society's understanding and support for it has been insufficient.

    Since 2014, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has been carrying out a nationwide survey on the living conditions of people with aphasia. We want to see the government institute sufficient support measures based on the results of the survey, which will be compiled by the end of the current fiscal year.

    Those with aphasia have a hard time understanding words they hear or read, and at times have problems speaking and writing. Those with serious cases of aphasia can hardly communicate at all, requiring constant assistance in their everyday lives.

    However, public assistance for aphasia patients is meager compared to that provided to those with other physical disabilities. Under the current physical disability certification system for public assistance, aphasia is the only disability for which a "level 3" certification is the highest given, even in the most serious of cases. Those with aphasia can receive a certification of "level 1" -- the most severe -- only if they have other physical disabilities as well.

    The disability certification system was developed over half a century ago, in 1954. The medical knowledge on which the system was based has changed dramatically since then. It is only natural that aphasia patients and their families should seek a review of the certification system; similar demands have been made by experts.

    Even when it comes to disability pensions, those whose sole disorder is aphasia can only receive a certification of "level 2," even in the most serious cases. Isn't it time that the government review this system as well?

    Employment support for aphasic patients has also been inadequate. Many with aphasia develop the disorder between their 30s and 50s, what would normally be their prime earning years. When they lose their jobs due to their conditions, the impact is felt not only by the patients, but by their families as well.

    The symptoms of aphasia are said to respond well to rehabilitation programs in many cases. Therefore, we ask that the government improve and expand rehabilitation facilities, and set up a system that allows the provision of support that meets the individual needs and abilities of each aphasia patient.

    For those with aphasia, it is crucial to have people that provide them with communication support when they venture out. The Chiba Prefecture city of Abiko and the Mie Prefecture city of Yokkaichi have programs to train and dispatch "aphasia communication partners," who have learned about the disorder and methods of communicating with aphasia patients. The health ministry says it plans to establish such initiatives in other municipalities as well, using the programs in those two cities as a reference. We hope the ministry actively promotes such programs.

    If the government is serious about creating a handicap-accessible and friendly society, ahead of the Summer Olympics and Paralympics that will be held in Tokyo in 2020, it must not neglect the needs of people with aphasia.

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