Japan doing well by its elderly


The Feb. 27 Bloomberg article “Seniors forced to go it alone as ranks swell, housing eludes” highlights some important issues, but overstates them. And by omission, it leaves the misleading impression that Japan is somehow behind other countries in providing for frail elderly people.

For example, it is true that there are long waiting lists for nursing homes, but a higher proportion of older people live in publicly supported nursing facilities in Japan than in most Western countries (4.7 percent of the population aged 65 and over, compared with 2.8 percent in the United States, 3.8 percent in Germany and 3.9 percent in England).

The article does not even mention that, since 2000, Japan has had one of the most comprehensive and generous public long-term care systems in the world, with more than 4.5 million older people receiving high-quality services. That increasing numbers of older Japanese are living, and dying, alone has gotten a lot of publicity, but Western countries have many more people in both categories.

And family care is still strong in Japan. Although the article says that only 18 percent of Japanese aged 65 and over lived with children in 2010, in fact the figure was 42 percent. (It is in the teen percentages in most Western countries.)

Japan is certainly wrestling with tough demographic problems, but in many ways it is doing pretty well and providing lessons to the world. For example, some 180,000 people live in “Alzheimer Group Homes” and about 2 million (the majority with some dementia) regularly attend adult day care — far higher numbers for these services than in any other country. A more comprehensive and comparative view is needed in articles on this topic.

john creighton campbell visiting scholar, institute of gerontology, tokyo university

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.