Caring for an Aging Population: U.S.-Japan Comparative Research into the Potential of a Prevention-Based Approach


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When: Oct 22 2014 - 12:00pm until Oct 22 2014 - 1:30pm
Where: 1819 L St, NW, Washington, DC. Sixth Floor Conference Room

Caring for an Aging Population: U.S.-Japan Comparative Research into the Potential of a Prevention-Based Approach

An Asia Pacific Seminar featuring:

Ms. Ender Ricart
Japan Studies Visiting Fellow, East-West Center in Washington
Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Chicago, Department of Anthropology

Dr. Albert Terrillion (Discussant)
Senior Director, National Council on Aging

Caring for an Aging Population: U.S.-Japan Comparative Research into the Potential of a Prevention-Based Approach from East-West Center on Vimeo.

Ms. Ender Ricart discusses the differences between US and Japanese approaches to caring for the elderly.

The challenges of an aging population in Japan have been in the headlines for years; by 2050, over 38% of Japan’s population will be over the age of 65. The US faces similar challenges; by 2050, 21% of the US population will be over the age of 65. Recent efforts to design a national long-term care (LTC) insurance system in the US have encountered the same problem with which Japan is trying to cope: How to finance and deliver the necessary services and benefits to cope with this change?

In her discussion, Ms. Ender Ricart outlined the cultural differences between the United States and Japan to demonstrate how those factors influenced attitudes towards providing comprehensive care for the elderly. In the United States the aging specialists and the policy makers often want completely different things. The aging specialists want more protection for the elderly while policy makers are more concerned about cutting costs. What is more, with so many organizations in charge of healthcare there is a significant lack of communication and coordination between all the US agencies, which leads to miss-allocation and waste of resources. 

In Japan almost the opposite is true, with policy makers and aging specialists both want to improve infrastructure and programs to give the elderly the best quality of life possible and make a valiant effort to ensure that they do not reach the point of no return. Unlike in the United States, Japanese citizens can purchase long-term healthcare coverage which comes with stipends with which they can buy items necessary for comfort and convenience (ex. non-slip floors, canes, etc.). Care managers act as "a bridge between the policy world and the practical everyday," helping guide the elderly through the often confusing process of determining exactly what coverage they need. However, as the baby boomers reach 65 and over they could potentially flood the system and lead to huge pressure on the Japanese economy to try and maintain the coverage options that others have long enjoyed.

This has led Japan to investigate other means by which to provide healthcare to the elderly at more cost-effective levels. One such way is the community comprehensive healthcare system, which would equip communities throughout Japan with the means to be able to take care of the elderly right in their home communities, thereby eliminating the need for them to retreat to nursing homes. The recently enacted preventive health care system take this one step further by seeking to help seniors while they can still take care of themselves to work towards eliminating their risks for a variety of healthcare issues that could be debilitating as they get older. The private sector in Japan has even gotten in on the act, from marketing fitness equipment, robots, video games and numerous other products to help the elderly be active in mind and body. 

But perhaps the biggest reason for Japan's success in their healthcare system for the elderly is their mentality. Heavily influenced by Japanese culture, which places the collective above the individual and places high regard on the elderly, the government has had a relatively easy time convincing people that it is their "social obligation" to either lend a hand or allow themselves to be helped. One would be hard pressed to find such an attitude in the United States, where trust in the government is at an all-time low and people take exception to being told what to do. Ms. Ricart believed that it was this difference that has led Japan to be proactive while their baby boomer generation is young yet similar urgency in the United States is hard to find.

Dr. Albert Terrillion (Discussant) Senior Director, National Council on Aging

Dr. Albert Terrillion also weighed in during the discussion. In addition to the points Ms. Ricart made, he emphasized how much costs would play a role in determining if the United States decided to adopt similar preventive care to Japan's. He warned the audience to beware of the "if you build it they will come" mentality. While this mentality could be applied to Japan, he described similar preventive programs being undertaken in the United States only to ultimately fail since no one was interested in supporting them, especially financially. He expressed some optimism however that the hard scientific evidence that had recently come to light supporting the preventive health benefits like those in Japan would provide the means to secure more backing for similar measures in the United States in the near future. 

 For more images, please visit the album for this event on the East-West Center's Flickr page. 

To view the slides Ms. Ricart used in her presentation, please click here

Ms. Ender Ricart is a Japan Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago Department of Anthropology. She has written and spoken on Japan’s aging society problem and the various countermeasures being taken to promote and maintain the health and well-being of seniors. Prior to this fellowship, Ender carried out 15 months of research in Japan as a Fulbright Fellow.

Dr. Albert Terrillion (DrPh, Med, CPH) is Senior Director of the National Council on Aging’s (NCOA) Clinical and Community Partnership division. At NCOA, he works to strengthen community care networks, establishing relations between health professionals, care providers, and local organizations to provide support to older adults. Dr. Terrillion has worked throughout his career to identify successful integration models that unite community and health systems. He currently serves as liaison to the federal Community Prevention Service Task Force.

Primary Contact Info:
Name: Sarah Batiuk
Phone: 202-327-9755