Graying of Tokyo portends nursing care crisis
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.