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Gov't wants to reduce dementia patient ratio by 6% among people in their 70s by 2025

The Central Government Building No. 5 in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward that houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is seen in this file photo taken on Oct. 14, 2015. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The government is poised to set a numerical target to curb the number of dementia patients for the first time in Japan in a new policy outline to be put forward this coming summer, it has been learned.

Under the initiative, the government is considering setting the target of slashing the ratio of dementia patients among those in their 70s by 6% over a six-year period until 2025.

The move is apparently aimed at curbing social security spending by promoting preventive measures against dementia. However, preventive and therapeutic methods for dementia have yet to be established, making it uncertain whether the government can ever fulfill such a numerical target.

It is estimated that the number of elderly people with dementia in Japan will rise to somewhere around 7 million by 2025. The government is currently working on a new outline to succeed the so-called "New Orange Plan," or the Comprehensive Strategy to Accelerate Dementia Measures. The centerpiece of the new outline will be prevention of dementia and creation of a dementia-friendly society.

The government will specifically employ the prevalence rate -- or the ratio of dementia patients in a population -- in setting the numerical target for dementia prevention. According to documents provided by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the ratio of dementia patients among those aged between 70 and 74 stood at around 4% and that among those in the 75-79 age bracket was roughly 14% in a survey conducted about a decade ago.

As Japan's baby-boomer generation, or those born between 1947 and 1949, will reach at least 75 years old by 2025, which is the last year under the new outline, the government will specify the subject of the incoming numerical target as those in their 70s. Specifically, the government is looking into a plan to aim to push down the dementia prevalence rate among those in their 70s by 6% between 2019 and 2025.

As part of preventive measures, the government will promote exercise lessons and learning courses for the elderly bracket as social engagement and workouts can possibly prevent dementia. The government will also weigh the establishment of an authorization system for commercial products and services designed to help prevent dementia.

As scientific grounds are still insufficient regarding the development of dementia, prevention of progress in severity, and treatment, the government will also pool knowledge from research results from home and abroad to formulate manuals for dementia prevention, and advance the development of new preventative and therapeutic methods for the disease.

During meetings of a government expert panel tasked with discussing the draft outline, members had called for promotion of dementia prevention out of concern for a rise in social security expenditures and labor shortages. However, some experts say it is difficult to reduce the number of dementia patients through medical care because drugs that permanently cure the illness have yet to be developed.

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Harada, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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