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Katsushi Oshiro, 43, a former salesman diagnosed with early-onset dementia, takes a bus to the car dealership where he works four days a week, being careful to view his commuting route using photos and a map to avoid getting lost.

Oshiro found out about his illness three years ago, but instead of being forced to quietly retire – as is often the case with people who develop the illness – his Toyota outlet in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, transferred him to a car-washing position.

Oshiro cleans about 40 cars in an eight-hour workday, using an automated washing machine and a handy vacuum, before wiping the cars down.

“He works carefully and efficiently,” said Yukiharu Uehara, manager of the outlet.

The washed vehicles are moved by his co-workers because Oshiro had to surrender his driver’s license as a result of the diagnosis. Workers in maintenance and sales all help him when he needs it.

“Supporting each other is the natural thing to do,” Uehara said.

People with dementia, the most common cause of which is Alzheimer’s disease, suffer from a progressive decline in mental acuity reflected by loss of memory, intellect and social skills. For those under 65, it is called early-onset dementia.

The health ministry estimates there are approximately 38,000 people with early-onset dementia in Japan.

Though still searching for ways to utilize their abilities, companies in Japan are gradually becoming more supportive of those with dementia.…

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