As mentioned in the previous post regarding the robot care in Japan, I have a concern about the concept of aging in place in relation to socialization. There was a newspaper article about “Kodokushi” a solitary death where one dies completely alone without being taken care of or accompanied by anybody. They are often found several days after, in some cases even over a month after one’s death.
The living arrangements among family in Japan has changed dramatically in the last few decades. The number of elders who live alone has increased rapidly over the past 20 years. Males living alone has grown from approximately 190,000 in 1980 to 1.05 million in 2005. In the same period, females living alone has grown from approximately 690,000 to 2.81 million.
Japanese elders, as elders in other countries, would like to stay at home as long as they can, and avoid moving into senior care facilities. However, this creates a problem of social isolation for them. Due to the collapse of the conventional family system and the weakened networks to their local community, it may have caused the serious social problem of Kodokushi.
Based on the results of the World Value Surveys conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which asked respondents about their contact with other people in their normal daily lives, Japan was one of the most “lonely” countries. People in Japan had the least communication with friends, work colleagues and other acquaintances in places of worship, and in sports and cultural associations in their everyday life.
It is important to ensure that elders can age in place at their own houses, however, our society should re-visit this concept and ask ourselves “why do people like to remain their own homes when they age? ” I believe that the answer is not just the attachment to their houses, but to maintain casual and continuum socializations within their familiar community. The social phenomenon of “Kodokushi” may be teaching us to challenge a shift in our thinking from individual focused to a community based approach.
We need a society where every elder can feel connected to someone who cares about them.
— Emi Kiyota