Children Ease Alzheimer's in Land of Aging

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Middle school students in Seoul spent a recent Saturday wearing 3-D glasses and watching a movie depicting a woman with dementia who wanders from home.

College students visit the hall and don blue 3-D glasses for Dementia Experience video journeys following people disoriented on streets or seeking bathrooms.

Throughout South Korea, Mrs. Lee leads dementia supporter training, arguing against longtime practices of chastising or neglecting patients, and advocating for preserving their skills and self-esteem.

One tip: give demented relatives a washing pan and washboard and say, The washing machines terrible ; we need your help washing clothes, she told 200 senior citizens interested in nursing home jobs or family caregiving advice. If patients say, Im good at making soy soup, but forget ingredients, guide them step by step, she advised. Otherwise, They may make it into salt soup, and everyone will say, Oh, this is terrible, you stop doing it.

Even the youngest are enlisted. Mr. Kwak, the local government official, arranges for nursery school classes to play games with nursing home patients, saying that it destigmatizes dementia and that patients who regress to earlier days may find it easier to relate to young children. And Dr. Yang Dong-won, who directs one of many government-run diagnostic centers in Seoul, has visited kindergartens, bringing tofu. This is very soft, like the brain, he said, letting it crash down. Now, the brain is destroyed.

Dementia is very bad for you, so protect your brain, he said, with exercise, not drinking too much sugar, and saying, Daddy, dont drink so much because its not good for dementia.

At a Dementia March outside the World Cup Soccer Stadium, children carried signs promoting Dr. Yangs Mapo district center: Make the Brain Smile! and How is Your Memory? Free diagnosis center in Mapo. The Mapo Center for Dementia perches at a busy crossroads of old and new, near a university and a shop selling naturopathic goat extracts. It has exercise machines out front and a van with pictures of smiling elderly people.
Even people without symptoms come, Dr. Yang said. They are eased by hearing, You do not have dementia and can visit two years later.
Cha Kyong-hos family was wary of getting him tested. Dementia was a subject to hide, said his daughter, Cha Jeong-eun. I worried his pride would be hurt going through this kindergarten experience.

But when my mother asked him to get ingredients for curry rice, he came back with mayonnaise, she said. And one day, Mr. Cha, 74, a retired subway official, could not find his way home. I was like, Where the hell am I? he said.

Ultimately, he visited Mapos center, finding the testing challenging. Sometimes I dont remember what I read, or I can see it with my eyes and my brain is processing it, but I cannot say it out loud, he said about the questions. How can my brilliant brain remember everything? Jeez, its so headachy.
Checking his ability to categorize items, Dr. Yang asked, What do you call dog and tiger?

I call them dog and tiger.
Pencil and brush?
Oh, theres a word for that.
Airplane and train?
I feel embarrassed I dont know.
You have a lot of loss of memory, Dr. Yang said. This is the very beginning stages of Alzheimers disease.
He suggested that Mr. Cha get a government-subsidized brain M.R.I. to confirm the diagnosis, and said drugs might delay symptoms slightly. He recommended Mapos free programs to stimulate what brain cells he has. These include rooftop garden floral therapy, art classes making realistic representations of everyday objects, music therapy with bongos sounding like a heartbeat.
Mr. Cha sighed.
I think, he said, gesturing toward his brain, that somethings wrong with this, just a little bit.