Japan is facing the largest population decline in the world as its old live longer and fewer are born. In the fifth installment of her series on nutrition and health in Japan, Erin Billups takes a look at how the country is preparing to handle the population shift.
As the Japanese continue to live longer lives, there are fewer and fewer working age people to support the country's rapidly aging population.
"The problem is very serious and we have a very large population of elderly people,” said Dr. Hideki Ito, president of the Tokyo Metropolitan Geriatric Hospital & Gerontology Institute.
Demographers calculate the impact through the "old-age dependency ratio.”
In Japan there are 36 seniors per 100 working age people. In 2050 that ratio jumps to 72 dependents per 100 workers.
The U.S. faces similar problems with baby boomers, but not as severe.
"When I reach my mother's age, 80 years old, then can I get the same benefits? I doubt it,” said Hiroyuki Shoji, president of Gonshiro Garp Production Company.
Dr. Ito and his staff at Tokyo Metropolitan Geriatric Hospital are working overtime to address the growing concerns because he says it may not be possible to have the young contribute more and more to support the old.
"I think we have to establish a method to prevent geriatric syndrome,” Dr. Ito said.
The hospital’s Gerontology Institute is conducting studies to try and discover how to prevent or slow down the onset of dementia, incontinence, mobility issues and frailty.
Officials here see prevention as a key to helping reduce the number of elderly that may need assisted living. They're constantly developing new methods and serving patients here at the health promotion center.
"This is for the patients who suffered like heart attack and if they have severe diabetes, usually they gradually decrease the activity. So, what we do is, we like to give them more energy,” said Shuichi Obuchi, a senior physical therapist at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gerontology Institute.
Once they are able to, patients are taught how to exercise forming new lifestyle habits. Nagako Yamada has diabetes and needed daily assistance, but all that's change, since the 77-year-old entered the program she's lost 40 pounds and no longer needs insulin.
"My grandson thought that he would have to carry me up and down the stairs. But now I can walk up the stairs by myself. He says, ‘I am saved,’”said Nagako Yamada, a participant at the Health Promotion Center.
This is one of two geriatric hospitals in the country that help to create a national standard of care for the elderly.