Wellness Wednesday – How Japan Is Evolving to Serve An Aging Population

There’s no denying that seniors encounter increasing challenges as we age. Helping folks embrace and take them on is an important part of our mission here at Busier Now. We believe that through activity and engagement older adults can continue to have a vital impact on our communities, and avoid being mis-labeled as a “drain” on resources. But what about when an entire society grows demographically older? Without adaptation, new ideas and careful planning, problems can grow exponentially.

Japan is facing just such a challenge for a paradoxical reason: her citizens are living healthier, longer lives! It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless without adapting to the new reality. In the following story the Wall Street Journal takes a provocative , in depth look at some of the ways they are dealing with the shift in demographics in the land of the rising sun.

“Smart Aging” Adaptations Help Japan Serve a Greying Population

Old Japanese woman aided by younger womanBy Jacob M. Schlesinger and Alexander Martin

TOKYO—At an office-building construction site in the center of Japan’s capital, 67-year-old Kenichi Saito effortlessly stacks 44-pound boards with the ease of a man half his age.

His secret: a bendable exoskeleton hugging his waist and thighs, with sensors attached to his skin. The sensors detect when Mr. Saito’s muscles start to move and direct the machine to support his motion, cutting his load’s effective weight by 18 pounds.

“I can carry as much as I did 10 years ago,” says the hard-hatted Mr. Saito.

Mr. Saito is part of an experiment by Obayashi Corp. , the construction giant handling the building project, to confront one of the biggest problems facing the company and the country: a chronic labor shortage resulting from a rapidly aging population. The exoskeleton has allowed Mr. Saito to extend his working life—and Obayashi to keep building.

Conventional wisdom says a large elderly population undermines an economy, and that Japan’s unprecedented aging condemns the country to a bleak future. The logic: Old people are an unproductive drain, squandering resources on pensions and health care, while doing little for growth through working, earning, spending or paying taxes.

One in four Japanese is 65 or older, compared with 15% in the U.S. There are now just 1.6 working-age Japanese available to support each senior or child under 15.

That ratio is already considered unsustainably low. By 2050, there will be just one working-age Japanese for every senior or child. During the high-growth 1980s, Japan had more than two, about the same as the current U.S. level.

Japan’s ability to craft a successful aging strategy has global implications, since other nations will soon follow its path. The United Nations projects that by 2050, 32 countries will have a greater share of senior citizens than Japan does now.

Pessimists say the only way to keep Japan from inexorably drifting into bankruptcy is radical change, like a sudden, sharp influx of immigrants—an unlikely prospect given Japan’s history as one of the world’s most homogeneous cultures.

But a growing number of Japanese executives, policy makers and academics challenge that proposition. They are exploring whether modest adaptations can ease the woes of an aging society, or even turn the burdens into benefits. read more at wsj.com

There’s a lot of information to unpack here, and a few blunt assertions that may rankle a bit, but hopefully this article got you thinking about how planning and adapting can help older adults stay vital and independent for many years to come. Feel free to leave a comment below, or to join a conversation over in the forums!


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