Takanori Kato, at age 68, is in his first year as a home helper in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward. Last December, he graduated from a 4-month nursing course and immediately got a job at a nursing home. Since then, he’s been learning the ropes of lifting the spirits of bedridden patients while taking care of their physical needs. Kato loves working: From age 19 to 60, he was a printing engineer for a newspaper; from 60 to 65, a quality controller at an ink company; and from 65 to 67, a database administrator. It was while working at this last job that Kato suddenly realized that he wanted to help the elderly. It was a calling that changed his life: Kato has never been happier and he wants to serve others for as long as he lives, which we hope will be for a few more decades.

When you admire people, it’s easy to work for them. I respect the elderly because they worked so hard and went through so much. I see every old lady as my own mom and every old guy as my dad. I also look up to the staff here and want to help them.

If adults keep their eyes on the present and their hearts connected to the past, it gives young people more space to venture into the future. Hayabusa, the Japanese unmanned spacecraft, has just returned to Earth after a 7-year journey. This is the kind of fantastic project that young people should focus on. We the elderly must take care of ourselves.

We must aim high or we won’t achieve much. Japan must be No. 1 in technology and industry. We must also be leaders in welfare, since we are the world’s first rapidly aging society.

The time to prepare for old age is when one is young and healthy. One fourth of our patients are fed via gastric tubes. It’s too late to ask them what they want.

Roro kaigo, meaning one elderly person taking care of another, is the best welfare solution. It keeps us caregivers in great shape and our patients receive the love and care they deserve. This way, society’s burden is lighter.

Answer fear with calm. People get scared when they feel vulnerable. To relax them, when we have to touch them, we explain why and where, so they know that it won’t hurt.

When you get a “help me please!” call, answer it. My old teacher’s wife has Alzheimer’s and my friend’s wife is also very sick. On my days off I visit their homes and take care of them.

If you accept and love people as they are, nothing can faze you. My mother suffered from dementia, and for seven years my wife and I took care of her at our home. She couldn’t control her bowel movements and was often smearing feces on the bed and walls. I didn’t mind. I just cleaned it up. I accepted her as she was at that stage. At the same time, my father developed lung cancer and was also at home, sick, for five years. After they died, my wife’s mother got dementia, and now her uncle has Alzheimer’s. No matter what happens, we take care of each other’s families. It’s no big deal, just part of life.

Family comes first. My wife’s father is very sick now. She and her sister share the task of caring for him, so she is at his house half of each week.

I see elderly people as treasures, and I am humbled to be near them. It’s not because I don’t mind cleaning up after them, even their backsides; I genuinely appreciate the chance to serve them. They are living history and I get courage and love from them. When we clean our patients, we always thank them for letting us take care of them. We get more than we can ever give.

We’re all interconnected. The older we get the more we realize that we can’t survive alone. We depend on others’ kindness and work.

If there is a way to prevent aging, it is work. My friends who don’t do much, age rapidly. A lazy lifestyle doesn’t suit the human DNA.

No matter what condition you are in, you can improve. Our whole body is full of muscles. If we train, we get stronger. I began working out seriously at age 65 because I noticed that running up the stairs was becoming an effort. Also, I was told that I was on the border of developing diabetes. I joined the gym and began both cardiovascular exercise and muscle training. I do two hours a day, five days a week. I work out so I stay healthy and can work.

Age discrimination is so much part of our lives today that we rarely question it. We accept antiquated concepts such as a specific retirement age and upper-age limits for school and job applications, even though they make no sense. We are staying healthier for longer than any generation before us. I would probably still be at my first job in the printing shop if “retirement age” had not forced me to leave. Ageism is old so it should retire!

Passion is the most important ingredient of life. I always had plenty of it but it was channeled for other things. Now I am focused on helping others and I am more energetic than ever.

The more I study the past, the more I want to shape the present and change the future. I was 65 when I began working on a history database. While I was inputting events from the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) eras, I realized how tough life was back then, with wars and natural disasters. I also realized that, incredibly, many of the people born in those periods are still alive today. I wanted to do something for those whose lives were less peaceful than mine.

Being a home helper is the most wonderful job. The days go by so fast and I never feel tired.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “journeys in japan” Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/ Twitter: judittokyo

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