Japan boasts one of the highest overall life expectancies among nations. In 2009, the average life span for Japanese women was a whopping 86.44 years and that for men 79.59 years. The health ministry estimates the number of Japan’s centenarians in fiscal 2010 at some 44,400 — a record. The population of centenarians has more than tripled in the past 10 years.

But these figures can be misleading about the real situation facing Japan’s seniors. In July 2010, the mummified remains of a man, who was listed as still living at 111 years of age on the family register, was found by city officials in his home in Adachi Ward, Tokyo. He had been dead for some 30 years. His eldest daughter and granddaughter were arrested on suspicion of fraudulently collecting his pension benefits.

After this incident, hundreds of cases surfaced in which family members claimed to not know whether their elderly relatives were dead or alive because they lived apart, and local governments concerned did not know either.

The Personal Information Protection Law makes it difficult for local governments to collect information on elderly residents. At least, communication must be improved between the social welfare section and the residents registry section within a local government.

Aside from these factors, the incidents point to the sad fact that many people have become indifferent to elderly members of society or disregard their human rights.

Both the government and private sector must endeavor to make 2011 a year in which the elderly get their due attention and not become isolated. Specifically, neglect, and physical, psychological and financial abuse of the elderly must be prevented.

The social welfare system alone does not sufficiently protect the elderly. Younger people should volunteer to provide support in their communities. For example, accompanying the elderly to parks, shops and hospitals would be of great help. They can also call on the elderly to check on their physical and mental condition. Local governments, schools and enterprises should find ways to strengthen ties between younger people and the elderly.

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