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15 Jan, 2020 07:00

Have dementia in the UK? You’re better off flying to Thailand for some quality care

Have dementia in the UK? You’re better off flying to Thailand for some quality care

Fresh Thai lemongrass soup, the sound of exotic birds, swaying palm trees, and a soothing massage. No, it’s not an ad for a southeast Asian getaway, but a new perspective in UK dementia care.

A recent report by the Alzheimer’s Society from the Care Policy and Evaluation Centre (CPEC) at the London School of Economics and Political Science states that there are approximately 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, and with an aging population, it is estimated that it will reach over 1.5 million by 2040.

But the British care industry is in trouble. As demand for support grows, so does the need for high quality care. But with poor wages, long hours, below average standards and low job satisfaction, 440,000 care workers leave their job every year, and there are around 122,000 vacancies available at any one time.

The total cost of care for people with dementia in the UK is currently at around £35 billion. This is divided between the NHS, the Government Social Care budget, and unpaid care (provided by families). But with the younger generation having to fork out £8.3 billion of their own money a year, it has led to some outside-the-box thinking when it comes to caring for loved ones.

One option is to care for family members at home, but British society hasn’t warmed to the idea of living with grandparents like in other countries. Another potential option is sending them abroad for better and cheaper care. It might seem cruel sending a dementia patient almost 15,000 kilometers away… until you dig a little deeper.

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Dr. Caleb Johnston, senior lecturer in human geography at Newcastle University, told the Guardian that Thailand already has a long history of medical tourism, and it’s now setting itself up as an international hub for dementia care. “The government and private investors are very active in cultivating this as part of their economic development. With the number of people with dementia set to increase, and the cost of looking after them also getting higher, it is likely to be an option that more and more people consider,” he said.

Eight such care homes are located in the northern part of Thailand in Chiang Mai. Managed by a mixture of Swiss, British, and Thai experts and staff, all have the backing and support of the Thai government. For 25 percent cheaper than private care in the UK, these centers boast one-to-one 24-hour care and are all set in magnificent grounds resembling 4- or 5-star hotels.

Paul Edwards, the director of clinical services at Dementia UK, says that given the low standards and expensive care in the UK, he can see why places like Thailand are emerging as options. “It’s an emerging market that I can see becoming more popular because our failing and ailing system, which no politician is even trying to find a solution for, causes fear for those whose loved ones have to use it,” he said.

Outsourcing patients thousands of kilometers away is a difficult decision for any professionals or family members – but when it comes to dementia and Alzheimer’s, perhaps a one-way ticket to Thailand might be just the thing.

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Sybille Wiedmer from Zurich discovered the benefits of this approach several years ago. In 2014, when her mother was in the late stages of dementia, Sybille moved her to Thailand. She says that despite being a difficult decision, it was the best place for her mother: “A lot of people were shocked in the beginning and said, ‘How can you do this? You can’t visit her. The treatment is so much more individual, and, how shall I say, with love. So I wouldn’t hesitate to put anyone like that there.”

The situation is of course a moral dilemma, but if Western countries continue to struggle to meet demand and provide poor services at high prices, it is easy to see why people would look abroad. In a society wrapped in guilt over how we treat our elderly relatives, maybe spending our twilight years in an exotic climate is the best way to end journeys?

Whatever your opinion, with the amount of people being diagnosed with dementia every year, I know what I would choose. Thai Airlines anyone?

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.