How One Japanese Woman is Helping Others Understand Alzheimers

"By 2030 there will be 3.3 million people living with Alzheimer's disease in Japan," says Yuka Sekiguchi. "There is almost no discussion about the issue in Japan, so while caring for my mother I am also trying to help spread the word about what it's like to live with dementia."

After spending nearly three decades in Australia where she worked as a professional filmmaker, in 2010 Sekiguchi returned to her native Japan when her mother Hiroko, then 79 was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

"During the time I have been caring for my mother Hiroko, I learned that her psychological stability was crucial," says Sekiguchi. "During the early stages of her experience with dementia, my mother was often sad and confused. We managed to get through this tough period with a sense of humor."

Over the next five years, the filmmaker recorded the experience of caring for her mother at home in a series of Japanese-language documentaries called Everyday Is Alzheimer's. A third installment in the series will be released in 2016.

Sekiguchi's experience caring for a family member with Alzheimer's disease is not unusual in Japan.

In Japan more than 20% of the population is over the age of 65. And, according to government estimates, more than 4.5 million people currently live with dementia. This number is only expected to grow as Japan's society continues to age.

Sekiguchi also says it's not easy to ask for help, particularly the elderly.

"People afraid they will be labelled as failure if they say they need help, and this includes caregivers," says Sekiguchi. "With my documentaries, I'm trying to promote the idea that you have to 'come out' as living with Alzheimer's, and you need to ask for help."

As Sekiguchi documents Hiroko's progress through the stages of Alzheimer's disease over the past five years, she herself has become an online hub where caregivers and family members in Japan can share stories about living with the disease.

Sekiguchi notes that while Japan has a fairly comprehensive caregiver insurance program that includes home visits by nurses and professional caregivers, there is still little public dialogue about dementia.

"I've created a Facebook page where caregivers and people in Japan can share their experiences caring for a family member living Alzheimer's disease," says Sekiguchi.

Sekiguchi answers questions and helps provide support to other people in Japan living with family members experiencing dementia.

"The Everyday is Alzheimer's Facebook Japanese-language page hosts a monthly 'dementia lounge' chat room from the first day to the fifth day of the month where caregivers can exchange their stories, ideas, or simply provide each other with encouragement," says Sekiguchi.

Participants in the monthly lounge on the Facebook page often ask for advice about how to deal with certain behaviors or situations that are coming to people living with Alzheimer’s.

Living With Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease typically progresses slowly in three general stages:

  1. Mild (early-stage);
  2. Moderate (middle-stage); and
  3. Severe (late-stage).

Since Alzheimer's affects people in different ways, each person will experience symptoms - or progress through Alzheimer's stages - differently. Learn more.
Tips for Living With a Family Member With Alzheimer’s

Most of all, remember there will be good days and bad days. Nurture your relationship by living in and enjoying the moment.