weekly blog--one for the ages
With the debate about health care boiling over in the US, we take a look at how Japan is addressing some of the issues of aging via an article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail. About 25 percent of the country’s population is currently over the age of 65 with a demographic forecast of 40 percent by the year 2060. Also, between 2010 and 2060, the percent of people over age 75 will double from 11 percent to 27 percent.
For businesses, Japan’s aging society is a reality as well as an opportunity. One company created a hybrid store featuring a seniors’ salon with a blood pressure monitor, pamphlets on municipal health care services and nursing homes, and on-staff social workers.
The store also has a special section featuring adult diapers, special wipes for bathing the elderly, straw cups, a gargling basin and detergent that is tough on urine and perfect for bed mats and wheelchair coverings. Staff will also deliver heavier items, such as bags of rice or water, to local residents.
Additionally, to attract workers, the company raised its maximum employment age, and is experimenting with lower part-time hours and jobs with very limited tasks.
Concerned about how Japan’s aging and shrinking work force will slow down the national economy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has initiated an “Abenomics” revival program which includes getting more women in the workplace, and supporting new medical technologies, including experimental regenerative medicine and cell therapy. The hope is that with two new acts governing regenerative medicine to help commercialize technologies more quickly, the government can save money on future health care costs while spurring the creation of a valuable new industry.
17 years ago, Japan chose to supplement its national pension plan with comprehensive long-term-care insurance (LTCI). People pay into the system starting in their 40s and are eligible to receive benefits starting at 65, or earlier in the case of illness. When they apply, applicants are interviewed by a municipal employee who feeds the resulting information into an algorithm that assigns the person a care level.
The information is analyzed by an expert committee of welfare workers. A care plan is then drawn up, allowing the patient to choose between competing institutions and service providers offering everything from home visits, bathing and help getting groceries to paying for short stays in hospitals or long-term residence in nursing homes and specialized group homes for dementia patients.
The LTCI system covers up to $2,900 a month in services, as opposed to cash payment, and does require “co-payments” from patients. LTCI co-payments are capped or waived for low-income individuals, and the system saves money by providing options other than full-on institutionalization.
Meanwhile, Japanese researchers are now looking at whether robots can help as the country ages, from robot suits that help rehabilitation to fully functional humanoid robots. One company currently sells a furry robotic seal called Paro, which has been proven in various settings to reduce anxiety, stress, depression and even patients’ perception of pain during chemotherapy treatments.
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