In Brief

Why British dementia patients are being sent to Thailand

New research reveals desperate families seeking affordable care overseas for relatives with the disease

A growing number of elderly sufferers of dementia are being sent to Thailand by families struggling to meet the cost of care in the UK, according to new research.

The Guardian reports that researchers visiting private care homes for dementia patients in Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand, have found “eight homes where guests from the UK are living thousands of miles away from their families”.

The majority of these patients have been sent to the Southeast Asian nation because “suitable care in their home country was impossible to find or afford”, says the newspaper.

Recent figures from the Alzheimer’s Society suggest that there are currently around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK - a number that is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.

An estimated 225,000 will develop dementia this year alone, equivalent to around one every three minutes.

Local authority residential care for dementia patients in the UK can cost up to £700 a week, while private care comes in at around £1,000.

“There are no prescribed staff-to-guest ratios in the UK but, with annual staff turnover exceeding 30% and 122,000 job vacancies, levels in state and private facilities tend to be around 1:6,” The Guardian reports.

“In Thailand, in contrast, 1:1 around-the-clock residential care with fully-qualified staff – in award-winning facilities that look like four-star hotels – costs around £750 a week.”

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The paper says that a number of the facilities are British-run, while others are “Thai-run but with substantial investment from British citizens, and some are Swiss-run”. All reportedly “have the backing and support of the Thai government”. 

Dr Caleb Johnston, a lecturer in human geography at Newcastle University, said: “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.”

Although there are no official figures for the number of people being sent from the UK to Thailand to receive care, Johnston believes it is “likely to be an option that more and more people consider”.

That view is shared by Paul Edwards, director of clinical services at Dementia UK. “I can well understand people choosing this option, given the state of anxiety about care in the UK,” he said.

“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.”

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