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As welfare costs climb, gerontology groups propose higher age for definition of ‘elderly’

by

Staff Writer

Japanese between 65 and 74 should no longer be classified as elderly because they are physically and mentally much younger than their counterparts were decades ago, says a proposal backed by two academic societies.

Under the recommendation, released Thursday by the Japan Gerontological Society and the Japan Geriatrics Society, the definition of elderly should be used for people who are at least 75, rather than 65 at present. It also proposes a new term for those 90 and over: “superelderly.”

Defining those between 65 and 74 as “pre-elderly,” the groups called on the government to reclassify them as supporters of society rather than people who need help from it.

The gerontological societies said that, compared with Japanese 10 to 20 years ago, today’s seniors are five to 10 years younger, physically speaking. Based on several studies, the majority of those between 65 and 74 are mentally and physically healthy and can still actively engage in social activities, the recommendation said.

The proposal is likely to spark discussions about reviewing the nation’s social security systems — including the age at which one can start receiving pension money. That age rests on defining people 65 or over as elderly and retired or on the verge of retirement.

But some experts warned that discussions about physical health and welfare should be separate.”Social welfare systems for the elderly are not something decided based only on physical health aspects. They are also to do with things like seniors’ income and housing situations,” Hiroko Kase, a social welfare professor at Waseda University, told The Japan Times. “If the government delays the starting age for receiving state pension from the current 65 to 75, it also needs to think of ways for them to sustain their jobs up until that age.”

But even if the government moves the retirement age up to 75, salaries are expected to shrink as many would not be capable of working with the same vigor they did in their 40s or 50s, she said.

“We need careful discussion on the issues,” she added.

“The government is the one responsible for creating the disastrous state of the social security system. It was aware of the issues for a long time but it just left them untouched. . . . It surely cannot simply just slash (social security for the elderly) because now it is suffering from an aging population,” she said.

According to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry’s estimates in September 2016, roughly 27 percent of the population was 65 or older. If the definition of elderly is changed to 75, the ratio of senior citizens would be halved to around 13 percent.

Since the ratio of people 65 or over is expected to climb to nearly 40 percent by 2060, reducing snowballing social security costs is among the nation’s most pressing issues. According to a Cabinet Office survey in fiscal 2014, the majority of the public did not view those 65 or older as elderly. The largest number of respondents said men should be defined as elderly when they reach 70, and women when they reach 75.

The gerontological societies set up a working group of doctors, psychologists and sociologists in 2013 to review the definition of elderly based on studies of seniors’ mental and physical health.