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Correction: Thailand-Exporting Alzheimer's story

Tuesday - 1/14/2014, 8:10am  ET

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (AP) -- In a story Dec. 30 about Europeans seeking care for Alzheimer's in Thailand, The Associated Press incorrectly named a company that works in this field. The company's name is Patients Beyond Borders not Patients Without Borders.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Some with Alzheimer's find care in far-off nations

Thai facilities welcome Europeans with Alzheimer's; relatives say care cheaper, more personal

By DENIS D. GRAY

Associated Press

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (AP) -- Residents of this facility for people with Alzheimer's disease toss around a yellow ball and laugh under a cascade of water with their caregivers, in a swimming pool ringed by palm trees and wind chimes. Susanna Kuratli, once a painter of delicate oils, swims a lap and smiles.

Watching is her husband, Ulrich, who has a heart-rending decision: to leave his wife of 41 years in this facility 9,000 kilometers (5,600 miles) from home, or to bring her back to Switzerland.

Their homeland treats the elderly as well as any nation on Earth, but Ulrich Kuratli says the care here in northern Thailand is not only less expensive but more personal. In Switzerland, "You have a cold, old lady who gives you pills and tells you to go to bed," he says.

Kuratli and his three grown children have given themselves six months to decide while the retired software developer lives alongside his 65-year-old wife in Baan Kamlangchay -- "Home for Care from the Heart." Patients live in individual houses within a Thai community, are taken to local markets, temples and restaurants, each with three caretakers working in rotation to provide personal around-the-clock care. The monthly $3,800 cost is a third of what basic institutional care would come to in Switzerland.

Kuratli is not yet sure how he'll care for Susanna, who used to produce a popular annual calendar of her paintings. But he's leaning toward keeping her in Thailand, possibly for the rest of her life.

"Sometimes I am jealous. My wife won't take my hand but when her Thai carer takes it, she is calm. She seems to be happy," he says. "When she sees me she starts to cry. Maybe she remembers how we were and understands, but can no longer find the words."

Spouses and relatives in Western nations are increasingly confronting Kuratli's dilemma as the number of Alzheimer's patients and costs rise, and the supply of qualified nurses and facilities struggles to keep up. Faraway countries are offering cheaper, and to some minds better, care for those suffering from the irreversible loss of memory.

The nascent trend is unnerving to some experts who say uprooting people with Alzheimer's will add to their sense of displacement and anxiety, though others say quality of care is more important than location. There's also some general uneasiness over the idea of sending ailing elderly people abroad: The German press has branded it "gerontological colonialism."

Germany is already sending several thousand sufferers, as well as the aged and otherwise ill, to Eastern Europe, Spain, Greece and Ukraine. Patients are even moving from Switzerland, which was ranked No. 1 in health care for the elderly this year in an index compiled by the elderly advocacy group HelpAge International and the U.N. Population Fund.

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.

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