Sunday, September 26, 2010

Japan's Elderly Problem and Nursing Crisis

Al Jazeera posted two reports about Japan that share many parallels with Korea.  Modernized, urban living and longer lifespans have led to an increasing problem of what to do with the all the old people.

It has always been tradition in Japan that children take care of their parents in old age and continue to live together.  Respect for the elderly has always been a supreme virtue.  However, many factors are changing this such as parents having fewer or no children, or children having to work demanding jobs that leave them unable to care for their parents.

Within forty years, 25% of Japan's population will be over the age of 75.  They currently have 40,000 citizens over the age of 100.  They have a lot of old people, and are struggling to keep track of them and care for them.


The report mentioned the man who was thought to be Japan's oldest living man, Sogen Kato.  He was thought to be 111 years old, but police eventually discovered two months ago that he had died over thirty years ago and his body lay mummified in his bed.  His family had been committing pension fraud.

This led to a national hunt in Japan for its elderly and it was discovered that 230,000 centenarians (people who are 100 years or older) were in fact dead and the government did not know.  Many elderly have been dying alone and uncared for and Japanese society is struggling to address this.

The rise in Japan's aging population is also coming at the same time as a massive nursing shortage.  There is a nursing shortage in every industrialized country, because the pay is low and the work is hard.  A Japanese nurse's death, Nobuo Miuro, was even declared a "karoshi" or a death by overwork because the job can be so demanding.

The nursing shortage in Japan is officially at 15,000 but could just as well be as high as 60,000.  This has led to a pilot program of letting foreign nurses move to Japan to work.  They have come from Indonesia and the Philippines and there are only 254 of them.  They recently had to take a Japanese standardized nursing exam to stay in the country (entirely in Japanese) and only three were able to pass it.  Many Japanese do not know what the answer is to this problem, but they do not think it is foreign nurses.

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