10,000 Elderly Dementia Patients Go Missing

  • By Hong Jun-ki, Choi Won-woo, Son Ho-young, Kim Dong-seop

    November 20, 2018 11:43

    More than 10,000 dementia patients went missing last year and over 100 of them were eventually found dead, according to police data released Sunday. The number of missing person reports filed for dementia patients rose from 7,983 in 2013 to 10,308 last year.

    Most of the missing dementia patients were reunited with their family in the end, but 104 were found dead away from their homes, 101 of them from unknown causes or suicide and three killed in car accidents.

    Many of those who go missing end up becoming vagrants. Bareun Mirae Party lawmaker Choi Do-ja compiled data on missing senior citizens suffering from dementia in the Seoul metropolitan area and found that 66 had been admitted into homeless shelters in Seoul and surrounding Gyeonggi Province over the last five years. 

    Experts are worried that too many patients are being left unattended. Lawmaker Kim Kwang-soo found that only 70 percent of dementia patients receive medical attention.

    The National Institute of Dementia estimated the number of dementia patients at 725,000 in 2017 and 764,000 this year, but only 499,352 were registered as having received medical treatment in National Health Insurance Service records. That means more than 200,000 people either did not know they are suffering from dementia or were not receiving proper medical care although their condition was known.

    Another concern is the rapid growth in the number of dementia patients. According to the NHIS, the number of people who received treatment for dementia increased by 162,019 from 2013 to 2017, an average increase of 40,505 annually or 111 a day.

    Treatment spending for dementia patients rose from W1.32 trillion in 2013 to W1.96 trillion in 2017 and is forecast to surpass W2 trillion this year (US$1=W1,127). It is growing at a much faster pace than overall medical costs for senior citizens, putting pressure on the national health insurance.

    The number of Koreans over 65 is expected to increase from 7.12 million in 2017 to 18 million in 2049, and that will lead to massive increases in dementia patients.

    Lee Dong-young at Seoul National University said, "Once a person turns 65, the chance of dementia doubles every five years."

    The NID expects the number of dementia patients to rise to more than a million in 2024 and 2.95 million in 2060. The ratio of dementia patients among senior citizens is also expected to rise from 10 percent last year to 17 percent in 2060.

    Chung Kyung-hee at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs said, "We have a long way to go when it comes to taking care of dementia patients as the government has only just initiated a system to deal with the ailment." 

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