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What we could learn from South Korea and their “war on dementia”

Creating a “community of care” outside hospital in the wider population could help revolutionize how we look after and care for those with mental health issues and dementia.

South Korea has declared a “war on dementia” encompassing ideas around a “community of care”, which includes day dementia-care and prevention clinics, such as one in Gangseo District, Seoul. Gangseo District has the second-largest population of elderly people in Seoul – 70,000 of the 570,000 residents are older than 60. South Korea started its dementia war in the early 2010s, embarking on a focused approach to readying the country for the increase in number of cognitively impaired citizens, one consequence of having the world’s fastest-growing ageing population.

South Korea created programmes to help people recognize signs of congitive decline and how to interact with those who have it, helping them retain dignity and quality of life and reducing the stigma around the disease. The programmes are aimed at everyone from kingergarteners to bus driviers to help demystify dementia, demonstrating what it is like to suffer from it, and giving advice on how to cope when relatives’ brains begin to fade.

The day centres are a place where halmoni and halabeoji (grandmothers and grandfathers) can exercise, chat, playing games, make art and do other exercises to strengthen their neural networks. There are sports and music classes, with the aim of giving dementia patients a sense of participation and accomplishment, as well as family outreach.

This is an example of what can happen when a country aggressively targets a health problem such as dementia, invests in prevention early, and focuses on education to reduce stigma and bias. All this work and focus on dementia means that South Korea is an increasingly dementia-ready nation.

Creating a “community of care” in New Zealand

Implementing aggressive targets to improve quality of life could not only benefit those who have dementia, but also this type of strategy could be applied to mental illness as well. We should be looking at a nationwide strategy of caring for people with mental illness, not only focusing on the sick, but also on education and eliciting compassion and understanding in others, including everyone in society, from the young to the old, to professionals, students, volunteers etc.

About Eve Williams

Eve Williams is the Content Developer and Social Media Administration for Eldernet. She is currently studying towards her Masters at the University of Canterbury. She has a passion for learning new things.