Journal of the American Medical Directors Association

Young, Yuchi*, Maksim Papenkov, and Taeko Nakashima

Abstract

The impact of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease extends far beyond the healthcare needs of the person with dementia. As the disease progresses, individuals with dementia often require ongoing formal or informal care for their basic daily routine because of behavior changes and continuing loss of cognitive function. Most of the care for people with dementia takes place at home, and the unpaid, informal caregivers are often spouses or other relatives. Providing long-term informal care at home for someone with dementia is psychologically, physically, and financially draining. The tragedy described in this case elucidates the far-reaching societal impact of dementia care and the implicit health policy considerations.

In 2007, a 91-year-old Japanese man with dementia was in the care of his wife when he wandered from home, was hit by a train, and died, immediately affecting the Central Japan Railway Company operations and, subsequently, legal practice as well as Japanese elder care policy. The railway sued the man’s wife and son for negligence and lost revenue, winning both trials at the local and district courts. This ruling shocked families and caregivers in Japan, where care for elderly parents traditionally falls on the oldest son, and brought attention to the complex issues related to dementia care. A decade later, we revisit this case to provoke a renewed dialogue about the matrix of responsibilities and liabilities associated with caregiving; to illuminate the unmet needs of the person with dementia, as well as his or her informal caregivers; and the financial implications related to long-term care policy. We close with 2 practical suggestions which preserve the dignity of the individual and provide reassurance for caregivers.

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* Denotes CSDA Associates, Affiliates, and Staff