The Philippines is offering Americans care for $1,500 to $3,500 a month - as compared to $6,900 the American Elder Care Research Organization says is the average monthly bill for a private room in a skilled nursing U.S. facility. About 100 Americans are currently seeking care in the Philippines but more facilities are being built and a marketing campaign will be launched in 2014, says J.J. Reyes, who is planning a retirement community near Manila.
Facilities in Thailand also are preparing to attract more Alzheimer’s sufferers. In Chiang Mai, a pleasant city ringed by mountains, Baan Kamlangchay will be followed by a $10 million, holiday-like home scheduled to open before mid-2014. Also on the way is a small Alzheimer’s unit within a retirement community set on the grounds of a former four-star resort. With Thailand seeking to strengthen its already leading position as a medical tourism and retirement destination, similar projects are likely.
The number of people over 60 worldwide is set to more than triple between 2000 and 2050 to 2 billion, according to the World Health Organization. And more are opting for retirement in lower-cost countries.
“Medical tourism” has become a booming industry, with roughly 8 million people a year seeking treatment abroad, according to the group Patients Beyond Borders.
The U.K.-based Alzheimer’s Disease International says there are more than 44 million Alzheimer’s patients globally, and the figure is projected to triple to 135 million by 2050. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that in the U.S. alone, the disease will cost $203 billion this year and soar to $1.2 trillion by 2050.
The pioneering Baan Kamlangchay was established by Martin Woodtli, a Swiss who spent four years in Thailand with the aid group Doctors Without Borders before returning home to care for his Alzheimer’s diagnosed mother.
Wanting to return to Thailand and knowing that Thais traditionally regard the elderly with great respect, he brought his mother to Chiang Mai, where she became the home’s first “guest.” Woodtli never uses the word “patient.”
Over the next 10 years, the 52-year-old psychologist and social worker purchased or rented eight two-story houses where 13 Swiss and German patients now reside. Two people normally share the modest but well-kept, fully furnished houses, each sleeping in a separate bedroom along with their caretaker.
Breakfast and lunch are eaten together at another residence where Woodtli, his wife and son live. On most afternoons, the group gathers at a private, walled park to swim, snack and relax on deck chairs. Regular outside activities are organized because he believes these stimuli may help delay degeneration.
“Movement is important. Tensions are also relieved if they have freedom to move. Our carers allow our guests a lot of space as long as it does not pose a danger to them,” he says. “In Switzerland we don’t have opportunity for such care.”
He says his guests “cannot explain it, but I think they feel part of a family, a community, and that is very important.”
Yet Woodtli says he has received criticism about “the Swiss starting to export their social problems.”
The German press has recently described shifting the aged and ailing abroad as “grandmother export.”
Sabine Jansen, head of Germany’s Alzheimer Society, says that while some with Alzheimer’s may adjust to an alien place, most find it difficult because they live in a world of earlier memories.
“People with dementia should stay in their familiar environment as long as possible. They are better oriented in their own living places and communities,” she says. “Friends, family members, neighbors can visit them. Also because of language and cultural reasons, it is best for most to stay in their home country.”