Post Tsunami Japan Sees Some Surprisingly Hostile Treatment of Elderly

Posted on March 19, 2011

As the waters receded, it became clear that a high portion of Japan’s elderly contributed to the nations’ death toll.  With one of the world’s largest  aging populations prior to the disaster, post-tsunami and earth quake, some surprising attitudes and actions against this vulnerable group were laid bare.

The aging of Japan’s population is proving to be one of the signature challenges facing the relief effort in the wake of last week’s killer quake and tsunami. More than 20% of Japan’s population is 65 or over, making its population far older on average than most other countries’. The percentage of elderly in Japan’s remote areas is about 30%. In many evacuation shelters, the elderly make up a large number of the residents. [WSJ]

Those with dementia have been turned away at at least one shelter for lack of people and pills sufficient to treat this devastating disease.  Even the stronger among the aging have been severely limited in the amount of medicine they can have due to shortages.  As a result those with chronic conditions, diabetes and heart disease among them, are further weakened by this crisis.

Among the reports illustrating  lack of humane treatment of the elderly:

  • More than 125 elderly Japanese patients, many comatose, were abandoned by medical staff at a hospital six miles from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, The Guardian reported. At least 14 subsequently died.
  • At least 11 men and women perished inside a retirement home in Kesennuma, where for six days they faced freezing temperatures, according to the Guardian.
  • Fourteen senior citizens died after being moved to a temporary shelter in a school gym because their hospital was in the evacuation zone near the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant, The Associated Press reported. [Guardian]

The sudden cost in terms of finances and time for younger relatives will no doubt result in much more tension between the generations.  Stories of dogs and other animals abandoned during the crisis have been far more prevalent than those about the elderly and what it has taken to care for them.

Not just nation states but the UN needs to take up the issue of caring for the elderly in the wake of a disaster.  New guidelines for preparing for their care and its cost should be developed.  Then, too, teaching elderly individuals how too prepare by themselves is critical.   [BBC]

The statistics for future survival rates among the elderly under normal circumstances are staggering:

The reason behind the steady rise in life expectancy is “the decline in the death rate of the elderly”, says Professor Tom Kirkwood from the Institute of Ageing and Health at Newcastle University.

He has a theory that our bodies are evolving to maintain and repair themselves better and our genes are investing in this process to put off the damage which will eventually lead to death.

As a result, there is no ceiling imposed by the realities of the ageing process. [Global News.Foreign Policy]

Essentially we have a disaster in the making before any act of man or nature interferes with our daily lives.  Effective care for the elderly is as important as becoming a green society.