The Yomiuri Shimbun
Elderly must enjoy healthy long life without need for nursing care
A major challenge facing the nation at a time when its population is rapidly aging is to ensure that elderly people can maintain their day-to-day lives for as long as possible, dispensing with the need to receive nursing care.
In early August, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry released the 2014 edition of its annual white paper, which focused on the goal of expanding the healthy life span so that the nation can be transformed into a long-lived, healthy society.
Healthy life expectancy refers to the number of years that people can continue to live their daily lives independently, uninterrupted by health problems and without having to receive the help of family members or others.
In 2010, the healthy life span of the Japanese stood at 70.42 for men and 73.62 for women, both marking the world’s highest levels. The figures have been increasing year by year.
However, these figures compare poorly with the average life expectancy—80.21 for men and 86.61 for women in 2013. This shows there is a disparity of about 10 years between the healthy life span and the average life expectancy among both Japanese men and women.
The gap represents how long men and women will be highly dependent on nursing care and medical services. It is widening due to a greater increase in the average life expectancy compared to that of the healthy life span.
It is necessary to shorten the period for which people need nursing and medical care, a task essential for enabling elderly people to live fulfilling, independent lives. If aged persons do not become bedridden and can live in good health for an extended period, the medical and nursing-care expenses they incur will likely be significantly reduced.
The government has said the goal of making Japan a nation of healthy and long-lived people is a pillar of its growth strategy.
In its strategy for health preservation and medical improvement adopted at a Cabinet meeting in July, the government said it would pursue the target of increasing the healthy life expectancy by more than one year by the end of 2020. The government hopes to nurture healthcare businesses that support elderly people’s efforts to lead long healthy lives, and promote such services and operations overseas, an endeavor conducive to economic growth.
An increase in the number of healthy elderly people is also expected to help secure workers and contribute to the promotion of volunteer activities.
Battle lifestyle illnesses
To increase the healthy life span, it is important for individuals to take preventive measures against lifestyle-related illnesses even while they are still working. Various complications can occur from diabetes, high blood pressure and other diseases associated with one’s lifestyle habits, which can easily lead to a need for nursing-care services in old age.
It is also necessary for local government and business corporations to play an active role in improving the health of local residents and employees. Measures must include promoting better lifestyle habits and raising the percentage of people receiving medical checkups.
A good case in point is the Shizuoka prefectural government. The local government is promoting what it calls a “health mileage program” under which local residents are awarded points according to their medical checkup and daily physical exercise records. When a resident has collected a certain number of points, he or she is entitled to receive complimentary services at shops participating in the program.
Meanwhile, Tanita Corp., a Tokyo-based measurement equipment manufacturer, has adopted a system in which pedometers are distributed to all its employees, requiring them to record how many steps they take every day. Employees who score high in this daily practice receive awards for their accomplishments.
We hope measures will be taken to achieve the intended goal in a manner that fits the realities of each community and company.
It is also important to provide elderly people with more opportunities to play an active role in society. If they make contributions to society through work and community service, elderly people will find their lives to be fulfilling and are unlikely to need nursing care.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 24, 2014)