Gray­ing of Tokyo por­tends nurs­ing care cri­sis

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

The num­ber of peo­ple in need of nurs­ing care will in­crease by 45 per­cent in the next 10 years, and nurs­ing care fa­cil­i­ties for el­derly peo­ple will fall short by 130,000 beds, in Tokyo and three of its neigh­bor­ing pre­fec­tures — Saitama, Chiba and Kana­gawa.

Th­ese es­ti­mates, an­nounced by the Ja­pan Pol­icy Coun­cil, com­pris­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of var­i­ous pri­vate­sec­tor fields, sound an alarm over the rapidly aging pop­u­la­tion in the Tokyo metropoli­tan area.

The pop­u­la­tion aged 75 or older will in­crease by 5.33 mil­lion na­tion­wide by 2025 as peo­ple in the baby boom gen­er­a­tion reach that age bracket. A third of them, or 1.75 mil­lion, will be con­cen­trated in the Tokyo metropoli­tan area, where many of them moved from ru­ral ar­eas ear­lier in life dur­ing the pe­riod of high eco­nomic growth.

In ad­di­tion to nurs­ing care, a lack of med­i­cal ser­vices is also a mat­ter of con­cern. The de­mand for hos­pi­tal ser­vices in the Tokyo metropoli­tan area is ex­pected to in­crease by more than 20 per­cent in the next 10 years.

In the Tokyo metropoli­tan area, with its high land prices, it is dif­fi­cult to build more hos­pi­tals and nurs­ing care fa­cil­i­ties to meet the mount­ing de­mand. The la­bor short­age in medicine and nurs­ing care will also be­come a hur­dle. If busi­nesses in that sec­tor try to se­cure the nec­es­sary per­son­nel, there is a fear that such a move could spur the pop­u­la­tion de­crease in ru­ral ar­eas. It will be a prob­lem that goes well be­yond the Tokyo metropoli­tan area.

As a ma­jor part of the so­lu­tion for the prob­lem, the coun­cil pro­posed that el­derly peo­ple in the Tokyo metropoli­tan area move to lo­cal ar­eas. That is to say, while they are healthy, they are en­cour­aged to shift to lo­cal ar­eas that have suf­fi­cient abil­ity to of­fer med­i­cal and nurs­ing care ser­vices, and pre­pare for their fu­ture. The coun­cil named 41 sug­gested lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing Beppu, Oita Pre­fec­ture, and Hako­date, Hokkaido.

Get Out Of Town?

Many mid­dle-aged and el­derly peo­ple in ur­ban ar­eas would like to move to ru­ral ar­eas. That would lead to job cre­ation and eco­nomic vi­tal­iza­tion in the lo­cal ar­eas. It is an op­tion wor­thy of dis­cus­sion. It is nec­es­sary to strengthen sup­port for those who wish to move to ru­ral ar­eas, such as by pre­par­ing and im­prov­ing con­sul­ta­tion ser­vices and giv­ing as­sis­tance with the costs.

How­ever, there are high hur­dles be­fore mak­ing such a move — for ex­am­ple, non-re­tirees will want to find jobs in their new lo­ca­tion, and the un­der­stand­ing of fam­ily mem­bers must be ob­tained. How med­i­cal and nurs­ing care costs for those who move to lo­cal ar­eas should be di­vided be­tween the Tokyo metropoli­tan and lo­cal ar­eas is also a prob­lem.

In the first place, the num­ber of el­derly peo­ple who can af­ford to move to ru­ral ar­eas is limited. It is a ba­sic gov­ern­ment pol­icy to im­prove med­i­cal and nurs­ing care ser­vices at home, to avoid ex­ces­sive de­pen­dence on hos­pi­tals and other fa­cil­i­ties so that el­derly peo­ple can live in a familiar en­vi­ron­ment. The gov­ern­ment should not ne­glect cre­at­ing such a sys­tem for that pur­pose.

The coun­cil also pro­posed stream­lin­ing op­er­a­tions with ro­bots and in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy in med­i­cal and nurs­ing care fields, and set­ting up med­i­cal and nurs­ing care bases in va­cant houses. Ef­forts to make the most of limited hu­man re­sources and land are re­quired.

Not to be over­looked are pre­ven­tive mea­sures against dis­eases and a sit­u­a­tion in need of nurs­ing care, such as im­prov­ing life­style habits and do­ing mod­er­ate ex­er­cise to ex­tend a healthy life ex­pectancy. We hope lo­cal gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions will step up ef­forts to en­cour­age such mea­sures.

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