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Mutual support among the elderly crucial as Japan continues to age
Publication Date : 17-09-2013
It is Respect-for-the-Aged Day today, and it is worth noting that there are now more than 54,000 centenarians in the nation, 11 times more than 20 years ago.
It is delightful that Japan has become the world leader in longevity. However, we need to think—as a whole society—about how we can make the lives of the elderly fruitful.
A study panel of the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry said in a report it compiled in March that elderly people require “mutual support and self-help,” together with “mutual aid and public assistance” to live in their communities.
“Mutual aid” means reciprocal aid provided by the social insurance system, including nursing care insurance, through premiums. “Public assistance” includes public livelihood assistance paid for with tax money.
“Mutual support” refers to a private framework of support provided by neighbors or local volunteers.
Such support is spreading in various parts of the country.
For instance, in Sasacho, Nagasaki Prefecture, volunteers regularly check on elderly people to ensure their condition does not deteriorate to the point that they require nursing care.
Volunteers, who are mainly in their 60s, attend training lectures held by the town government. At a class held at a local meeting hall, would-be volunteers receive instruction on physical exercise and recreational activities designed to prevent elderly people from becoming bedridden or developing dementia.
The volunteers also visit houses of elderly people to help them with laundry and house cleaning.
Need for nursing care declining
Thanks to these efforts, the ratio of elderly people certified as requiring long-term nursing care has declined in the town, reducing nursing care costs.
An outstanding point of this programme is that local people can easily take part in it through their community ties.
According to one study, older people who engage in such voluntary activities are less likely themselves to develop dementia or require nursing care. Such activities by volunteers can also give their lives more meaning, and their expansion should be encouraged.
It has been said for some time that social ties in local communities have weakened. Local governments hold the key to promoting mutual support for the elderly. For example, the governments should explore ways such as helping secure venues for volunteer activities to back up mutual support.
Elderly people aged 65 or older account for one in every four people in Japan. Due to the nation’s rapidly aging society and low birthrate, the burden of supporting the social security system on the working generation will become heavier than ever. It is apparent that supporting the livelihoods of the elderly with public services alone is difficult.
The elderly should make use of self-help so they can live on their own. To this end, it is important for them to realise that they can become supporters in society, in accordance with their will and ability.
Enabling people even in their advanced age to continue doing productive work is an extremely important task. We should realize a society of “active longevity” in which elderly people can make use of their abilities nurtured over many years.