Toshiyuki Shidotani, who has dementia, engages in agricultural and DIY work. (Video by Hiroyuki Ishimae)

AYAGAWA, Kagawa Prefecture--Toshiyuki Shidotani says he has been living a richer life since being diagnosed with dementia, a cognitive impairment that initially plunged him into depression and despair.

Shidotani, 68, who lives here with his wife, Hisami, 70, had been devoted to his interior finishing work until several years ago.

About 30 minutes from Takamatsu by train, the residential area where Shidotani lives is part of a town that was developed 40 years ago. Many of its residents are aged baby boomers with adult children.

Shidotani starts the day doing early-morning radio calisthenics with his neighbors. He also plays table tennis and works with his friends of similar age in agricultural and DIY activities organized by a local circle.

Ahead of World Alzheimer’s Day on Sept. 21, Shidotani explained how he felt when a doctor told him he had early-onset Alzheimer-type dementia five years ago, just before he turned 65.

“I am a cheerful man but was depressed about my condition for the first six months,” Shidotani said. “I had believed there were no problems with my cognitive functions.”

As a self-employed interior finishing worker, Shidotani could easily remember drawings and quickly complete his work if he checked them in advance.

But after developing dementia, he had to keep re-examining the drawings. As a result, he had no choice but to reduce his workload to avoid causing problems for his customers.

“I was going crazy with fear, wondering what would happen to me next,” Shidotani said.

He would wake up his wife late at night, telling her that he had to go to work or explaining his job-related problems.

“I still sometimes suffer from those delusions, but I can now feel calm because my wife makes me realize they are just ‘dreams,’” he said.

Shidotani experienced no serious problems with his life or work in the two years following the diagnosis, so he does not use nursing-care services.

Just after he retired from work, all he needed was to take his dog, Ren, for a walk.

“I did not know what to do in my spare time, troubled by my tenuous link with the local community,” Shidotani said.

Hisami asked a neighbor for advice on how to help her husband.

Shidotani followed the neighbor’s recommendation that he visit the regional comprehensive support center.

“My days became happier after I started going to the center,” he said.

For two hours every Tuesday morning, about 15 members of the Ikuiku Hiroba circle are involved in various programs at unused space in a local child-rearing assistance facility.

On a recent day, Shidotani worked with his neighbors who are also Ikuiku Hiroba members to build a step stool.

When he finished sawing a piece of wood, Shidotani bragged about not only his cutting skills but also his cutting-edge wordplay.

“‘Jiga jisan’ (self-praise), ‘jiga jiisan’ (an old man),” he said, drawing laughter.

Ikuiku Hiroba members cooperate to accomplish their goals, such as preparing agricultural work for others and carefully checking each other’s conditions when exchanging greetings, according to Shidotani.

Its motto is “creating a community friendly to both dementia patients and healthy individuals.”

Yukiko Mii, 70, who helped to set up Ikuiku Hiroba, said the circle also brings about benefits for members who are not suffering from cognitive impairment.

“We may also develop dementia someday,” Mii said. “We learn lessons from patients while supporting them at the same time.”

Ikuiku Hiroba members warmly communicate with each other without prejudice. They do not consider anyone different from themselves because they all accept the disease as their own problem.

Shidotani said making the condition public will help patients lead an easy life.

“I disclosed my condition immediately after the first diagnosis, as there is no need to hide it,” he said. “I do not need to gloss over problems (from the disease) in front of others and can behave just as I want.”

Shidotani said that although he forgets things more often, he can enjoy life without problems.

“What is important is accepting the fact that I have dementia as well as having the courage to be accustomed to the condition,” Shidotani said. “Due to such efforts, I can now feel much easier.”