Emi Kiyota writes…
A small town in Miyazaki, Japan started a “Yellow handkerchief campaign,” to watch over elders in their community.
This approach is quite simple and very low cost. Yellow handkerchiefs on a bamboo stick were distributed to 120 households where elders live alone in this town. When elders get up in the morning, they display a yellow handkerchief at the entrance. Then, bring it into their houses in the evening. If the handkerchief is not displayed outside in the morning, neighbors visit the house and check on the elder.
A 78 year old woman who lives by herself commented that “I feel safe and protected by neighbors who constantly check to see whether or not my yellow handkerchief is displayed at my entrance. Their kindness motivates me to wake up in the morning everyday.”
This simple system is working well and it has now expanded to 810 households. Moreover, many towns are considering introducing this system.
Japan has been known as a “high-tech” country, but technologies can be confusing and sometime costly to implement a “surveillance system” for elders. It may even raise an ethical concern about violating privacy of individuals. I was so glad to find this human scale social support system that helps, not only, to enable elders to remain in their home safely, but also, to naturally connect elders with neighbors with such a simple solution.
This is also quite an effective way to give elders a sense of control to regulate the boundary of privacy, because neighbors would simply respect their privacy in the house when the handkerchief is displayed outside. Moreover, the yellow handkerchief gives opportunities for neighbors to start conversations with elders in non-threatening ways.