Elder-to-elder nursing care is expanding in Japan due to the aging of care workers.
The ratio of elderly workers is rapidly rising in the nursing care sector because young people are unwilling to take on the tough, low-paying work.
While care services, including bathing support, are physically tough for elderly caregivers, receivers feel reassured when they are taken care of by those from the same generation. Elderly caregivers thus remain indispensable in the industry.
At Seikoen, a social welfare corporation operating nursing care and other facilities in Yubari, Hokkaido, 33 of its 132 caregivers are older than 60, including five in their 70s.
People 65 or older accounted for 47.57 percent of Yubari’s population at the end of 2014, the highest of all cities in Japan, according to the municipal government.
“Given the high population ratio of elderly residents, it’s difficult to hire young workers,” said Hidenori Odajima, an official in charge at Seikoen.
Seikoen started a program in April that pays the tuition of students at vocational schools for nursing care and welfare workers if they agree to work at its facilities for five years after graduation. At the end of 2014, two young people applied for the program.
But as it waits for the applicants to graduate, Seikoen will continue struggling with the shortage of young workers.
Providers of home-care services are in the same situation.
Support House Nenrin, a nonprofit organization in Tokyo, was unable to recruit two caregivers for some time to replace two who had retired at the age of 70 and was thus forced to turn down requests for services from time to time.
Home-care workers are in the toughest situation in the industry as the length of work depends on the private homes they visit, making their income unstable.
Women from the baby-boomer generation have played central roles in the nursing care industry but will turn 70 in the near future and start to retire, warned Atsuko Yasuoka, head of Support House Nenrin.
“I hope they will continue to work because young people are reluctant to join the workforce,” she said.
A survey by the Care Work Foundation in fiscal 2013 found that the average ages of workers at nursing-care facilities and home-care providers were 42.3 and 51.9 years, respectively. The ratio of home-care workers older than 60 years stood at 31.6 percent, up from 19.6 percent in fiscal 2007.
Demand for elderly caregivers is strong because receivers feel close to them or appreciate their cooking, to mention but a few reasons.
The work is “physically tough but I understand how care receivers, with decreasing physical strength, feel,” said a woman in her 60s working at a nursing home in Tokyo.
Lifting and other machines to move care receivers are useful to help elderly givers continue working.
Masanobu Niikawa, chairman of Kaientai Honbu, a staffing agency that dispatches care workers older than 60, said elderly caregivers engage in subsidiary work, such as cleaning and tray services, rather than heavy physical work like bathing and toilet support.
Elderly caregivers “cannot work in the same way as young workers but can become good supporters,” Niikawa said.
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