A new government plan to cope with the problem of growing ranks of people with dementia could create potentially harmful misconceptions and misunderstandings about this condition.

The government last week presented new draft guidelines for its policy efforts to tackle this challenge to a panel of experts tasked with providing advice on the problem.

In addition to the previously adopted policy goal of building an inclusive society of “cooperative way of life” that offers a secure and friendly living environment for dementia patients, the new policy guidelines would also stress the importance of prevention. The plan would set numerical targets, such as lowering the ratio of dementia patients among people in their 70s by 6 percent by 2025.

Critics say such specific numerical targets for prevention could promote the misunderstanding that there are effective preventive measures to ensure that people will not develop dementia and reinforce the negative images of the condition. The government should adopt a cautious stance toward adopting such numerical targets for its policy efforts.

In 2015, the government mapped out a comprehensive strategy for tackling the problem dubbed “New Orange Plan.” Based on the assumption that anyone could develop dementia, the plan has placed the primary importance on protecting the dignity of patients and making it possible for them to live in their communities in ways suitable for their lifestyles.

The New Orange Plan has set such targets as training 12 million “dementia supporters”--community members who provide help for patients and their families based on accurate knowledge about the condition--by the end of fiscal 2020.

Besides these efforts to improve the social environment for patients, the new guidelines would put emphasis on “prevention.” Specifically, they would propose creating special facilities to help patients exercise and communicate with others and call for delaying the average age when people develop the condition by one year over the next decade.

People naturally want to remain healthy as long as possible, and no one would dispute the value of policy efforts to help people avoid developing dementia. But the fact is that there are no solidly established treatments or preventive therapies for dementia.

Policy targets for the battle against dementia should not be introduced in a way that could make people believe that they can prevent dementia if they take certain steps.

In March, people struggling with problems related with dementia visited the health ministry to communicate their concerns about the new proposals. They said the proposed numerical targets could make people who have developed dementia despite making efforts for prevention feel as if they were losers and cause them to lose their confidence.

We cannot help but worry that the numerical targets could spread the perception that people with dementia have failed to make enough self-help efforts and are “a burden” on society.

Japan still has a long way to go before becoming a society that offers a secure and friendly living environment for dementia patients.

The number of “dementia supporters” has increased, but the number of people who are actually involved in supporting patients remains small. This and other problems that remain to be addressed have been pointed out by members of the expert panel.

No small number of Japanese opt to quit their jobs to care for family members with dementia. Dementia patients account for a large portion of cases of abuse against the elderly.

The draft policy guidelines pledge to “promote (the measures) from the viewpoint of dementia patients and in line with the views and wishes of patients and their families.”

That should mean paying serious attention to concerns about the new approach. Policymakers should not forget that the primary policy imperative concerning this problem is to build a society that is really kind to dementia patients.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 21